Rates of recycling computer equipment will need to improve dramatically in coming years in order to avoid the significant dangers that this electronic waste poses to the environment.
The sheer volume of computer equipment that is currently being discarded is a major contributor to the landfills throughout the world.
The real problem with this waste is that computer equipment contains harmful toxins and carcinogens that can get into the soil, water and air.
This is a severe threat to the quality and utility of these valuable resources, as well as endangering human health.
You know that recycling involves processing used materials into new products. The reason is to prevent waste of potentially useful materials.
It also aims to reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials and reduce the use of energy. Further it positively affects air quality through reduced air pollution (from burning) and water pollution (from seeping into groundwater from landfill).
Recycling is fundamental in modern waste reduction. It is also the third component of the "Reduce, reuse and recycle" process that you have heard about.
The dangers of electronic waste
The main reason why recycling computer equipment is so important is the high quantities of lead that can be found within computer
parts. The cathode ray tube inside a computer monitor will typically contain between 1.5 and 8 pounds of lead.
The circuit boards inside computer hard-drives also contain substantial quantities of lead that is used in the soldering the parts together.
When discarded in landfill, this lead can leech into the soil and groundwater, contaminating it and making it unfit for use.
Lead is also released into the atmosphere when the rubbish is incinerated, creating significant respiratory and other health concerns for people living in the area.
Given these high risks, it is disturbing that current rates of recycling computer equipment are very low.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency said that over 63 million computers were discarded in 2007. They also estimate that only 15% of all unwanted electronic computer equipment is recycled in the United States.
These rates need to be improved to maintain the quality of the environment, reduce the size of landfills and eliminate the future risks to health.
The benefits of recycling
Apart from the risks posed by disposing of computer equipment in landfills, there are also significant environmental and economic advantages to reusing computer parts.
The materials that are used in the construction of computer parts are often very valuable. Recycling computer equipment gives us the opportunity to keep using these resources without needing to extract or produce new source material.
Tin, silicon, iron, aluminum, plastic, copper and gold are just some of the materials that can all be found in modern computer systems.
It is much more efficient to take these materials from the unwanted equipment and reuse it than spending the time and money on finding and developing new raw materials.
It will reduce the need for mining and the significant environmental disturbance that is caused by this activity.
Even though computer technology is advancing at a rapid rate, a lot of old computer parts can easily be dismantled and modified to serve a new purpose.