Something deadly on yourdesktop

Have you ever wondered what happens to yourold monitor after you get a new one?
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The Independent Online

WHEN YOU get to the office this morning, have a goodlook at your computer. You may be sitting in front of the next environmentaldisaster. You desktop PC may be a ticking time bomb, according to theIndustry Council for Electronic and Electrical Recycling. This isparticularly true if you use a flat-panel display.

WHEN YOU get to the office this morning, have a goodlook at your computer. You may be sitting in front of the next environmentaldisaster. You desktop PC may be a ticking time bomb, according to theIndustry Council for Electronic and Electrical Recycling. This isparticularly true if you use a flat-panel display.

Have you everwondered what happens to your old monitor after you get a new one? Well,in case of the flat-panels, not much, as nobody has a clue how todeal with the waste they generate. Standard monitors are recycled byspecialist companies which have a process of de-manufacturing PCs and reusingthe surviving elements. But this is not so easy with flat-panelmonitors. Recyclers need to know the components of the hardware, butmanufacturers are keeping mum about just what's inside thesemonitors.

The secrecy of manufacturers is highly worrying, as,according to recycling industry experts, flat monitors are likely to containchemicals such as ammonia, chlorine and carbon tetrafluoride. ITrecycling is a complicated process, and it takes a long time to developappropriate methods of dealing with electronic waste. As long asmanufacturers refuse to release full chemical specifications, your monitor islikely to be a problem waiting to happen. And it's likely to happensooner rather than later, as flat- panel monitors have a much shorterlifespan than standard monitors.

Environmental groups are seekinglegislation to force manufacturers to come clean and declare the exact contentsof flat panel displays. But IT manufacturers are a powerful group, andyou can safely assume they will be not give it up easily. Unless, thatis, they are forced to do so by public opinion.

The issue of managingcomputer waste goes beyond flat-panel monitors. Every day on my way tothe office, I pass by old monitors, keyboards, hard drives and otherelectronic rubbish left sitting on the pavement. With prices of computerscoming down, the heaps of computer waste are going up. The frequency ofour upgrades is increasing, as five years ago your computer would last you atleast two years, while today, the average lifespan of a new machine isonly eight months.

Unfortunately, the frequency of upgrades has notbeen matched by the recycling industry's ability to deal with theproblem. What's more, many companies in the UK have no policies forIT recycling, nor contracts with computer recyclers. Thus those spookycomputer scrap heaps are growing in an uncontrolled manner.

Is thereanything you can do? Start by checking up on your company's ITprocurement policies, and ask if they have a process in place to deal withelectronic waste recycling. If not, lobby for one. Also, checkwhich manufacturers are providing your trendy flat-panel display, and ifthey have provided the list of chemical components to the recycling bodies.Don't be afraid of asking questions - if you don't, no one elsewill. Awareness of the environmental dangers lurking in computer equipment isshockingly low among IT professionals, so your poking around and raisingissues is sure to attract attention to the problem.

But don't justfocus on your work environment. If you are a home user, you cand findyour nearest electronic waste recycling company on the Internet. When it istime to say good-bye to your old laptop or PC, don't just wrap it upin cling film and throw it in the bin. If you pass your old friend on to therecyclers, there is a good chance that somebody else may be able to use yourmachine after some tweaking.

Re-use is a growing trend in the computerindustry, particularly for schools and people who can't afford a newmachine. Dragnet.org is one of the organisations that recycles PCs foruse by disabled people, allowing them to take up home-basedwork.

Reduce, Re-use and Recycle are the three Rs of modernenvironmental thinking, and I sincerely hope that Friends of the Earth andother groups will take this up, as the age of computer waste is obviouslyupon us. There is a greater threat to our environment through wastefulmanagement of IT equipment than we originally anticipated, and someenvironmental groups, with their technophobic attitudes, will need yourhelp in understanding and focusing on the issue.

There is also a strongcase for lobbying your MP to ensure government IT purchases are from suppliersthat are clean and transparent about what lurks inside their products. Youcan find out more about electronic recycling issues atEnvirolink and theEnvironment Agency, which lists agencies that are trying to addressthe issue. And, as always, you can mail me with your views on thesubject.

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