Environmental Impact of Computers

Environmental Impact of Computers

Computers have become an indispensable part of our daily lives. Whether it is office going adults or school going kids, computers have become essential both for the corporate world and for keeping us entertained.

Theres’ no doubt that computers have made life quite easy however many disadvantages come along with their use.

The first computers were invented to make human work easier. In the 1990’s most companies encouraged their staff to go paperless and use their memos and send e-mails through software. Back then, computers were seen as products of utility; however, it is not so today.

Nowadays, people own more than one computer device at home. There are also mini-computers and laptops which are portable. Computers have turned from a thing of need to something that is owned by most of us, just because it is affordable.

While many may argue that computers have revolutionised the world, led to globalisation, and so on, the increased manufacture of computers has placed a strain on the environment. There is so much electronic waste generated when computers are discarded.

Also, in today’s world, technology is rapidly evolving. What was novel today becomes obsolete tomorrow. This has led to increased consumerism; people buy stuff just because it’s trendy and not because of its actual need.

Wastage of electricity

Wastage of electricity

Computers are widely manufactured and sold. It is estimated that around 1.3 billion people have personal computers, let alone those owned by corporates. In US itself, around 165 million people own computers. These figures are significant to gauge the amount of electricity that goes into running these devices. Also, most times computers are not used for some actual work, but to stream movies, music and play games.

The whole entertainment industry rests upon the constantly evolving computer technology, which has enormous economic potential but increases the environmental burden by putting pressure on the earth’s resources and causing electricity wastage.

Research has shown that a computer utilises 750 kilowatts of electricity each year, which is more than the electricity requirement of refrigerators and washing machines. Increased use of computers prompts more electricity generation. Since, in most parts of the world, fossil fuels are used in power plants to produce electric power, this causes pollution, drives climate change and causes global warming.

It is estimated that U.S companies lose around 1 billion dollars every year to pay for electricity wasted when the computers were not switched off after use. When a computer is put on sleep mode or standby, it still uses power. Even when the computer is shut but plugged into the socket, it consumes some amount of electricity. This is unnecessary wastage which can be easily avoided by being more vigilant and conscious of the environmental impact of computers.

What can we do?

As environmentally conscious buyers, we should not unnecessarily buy more and more electronic devices just for our satisfaction. Secondly, we should try to limit our computer time to conserve electricity. Thirdly, we should switch off the power button after using the computer. Switching off other connected devices, like scanners, printers also conserves electricity.

Avoiding the use of sleep mode can also save energy. We should never leave the computer plugged into the socket as it still drains energy. Always remember, every drop counts. So we should conserve electricity as much as possible to reduce our carbon footprint and slow down climate change.

Manufacture of Computers- a polluting activity

Manufacture of Computers- a polluting activities

The production process of computers is not simple. It requires lots of energy and materials like metals and plastic as well. The way these materials are procured creates pollution, land degradation and also resource wastage.

Lots of chemicals are also used, which are then discharged into nearby water bodies causing water pollution and threatening aquatic life. Although computers are evolving every day, they need more and more chemicals and pollutants to make them efficient machines. This is ironic but quite true.

The factories which assemble these computers generate pollution and toxic fumes, which are harmful to people who live in the vicinity of these units. Also, most of these facilities are located in developing nations that flout environmental norms. So these companies can make enormous amounts of money without taking any account of their actions.

Many of the computer components are made of gold wires, silver and also palladium. These metals are mined from the earth, which is itself a polluting activity. Most computers and phones have lithium-ion batteries, and cobalt is also used for making batteries. The majority of the world’s cobalt is obtained from Congo, where child labour is a common practice.

The mineworkers are given no protection and suffer from breathing problems. Sometimes their human rights are not respected, and they are not given minimum wages.

What can we do about it?

We can put pressure on the manufacturing firms to follow environmental regulations. Also, we can put the given technology to good use by raising awareness about environmental issues. We should also stand in solidarity with people affected due to the polluting activities of these industries so that affected ones can get their compensation. Inhumane working conditions in factories should also be revealed to the world through social media campaigns.

Generation of E-Waste

Generation of E-Waste

An enormous amount of electronic waste is generated every year when we replace our old computers with new ones. We are prompted to do so because software companies bring new updates which deliberately cause obsolescence. This is done to promote the sale of new computers with the latest technology. One such example is Apple, which faced many lawsuits due to deliberate obsolescence created to generate increased demand.

However, it is not always the companies but consumers who buy new gadgets to enjoy the new software updates. Among the youth, owning the latest technology has become an addiction and more like a status symbol, although this technology comes with a high environmental cost.

A recent report by the United Nations stated that 50 million tonnes of electronic waste are produced every year, and less than 20% of it is formally recycled. This statistic is enough to calculate the resources which are wastage annually in the production process.

This waste is not dumped in the developed nations but instead transported to the poorest countries of the developing world. It ultimately ends up in landfills in countries such as Ghana, Vietnam, Philippines. These nations suffer from poverty, and their populations are also impoverished. This waste has increased the economic disparity and the rich-poor gap as well.

What can we do?

We can do our bit by buying only one computer for our family instead of every person owning one each. By minimising wastage, we can contribute to conserving the environment.

Increased wastage of paper

When computers first came into vogue in the 1990s, their use was encouraged throughout the West, and they increased the pace of office work. Everyone thought that offices would become paperless in the next few years; however, that did not happen. Computers have made the availability of hard copies quite easy. This means more trees are being cut every day to make paper. This results in deforestation and climate change.

What can we do?

We should avoid taking printouts of every document and try to save as much paper as possible.

There are many negative environmental impacts of using computers however there are some advantages too. It depends on how we use the technology.

Some advantages of using computers

Computers have made it possible to study the natural environment. They are used to keep a watch on livestock and also in biosphere reserves and zoos to keep an eye on the endangered species.

 In the Arctic, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme uses powerful computers to collect and analyse data about atmospheric contaminants, pollutants and marine life and radioactivity. It is because of computers that scientists can work together to handle global environmental issues and collect data regarding the same.

Conclusion

Thus, computers are efficient machines if used judiciously. We should limit our usage time and, while we are at it, utilise technology for raising environmental issues on virtual platforms and raising environmental awareness. We should not give in to hyper-consumerism and only buy electronic goods if required.  We should not throw them away due to minor technical issues but continue to use them if they can be repaired. This would be one less resource wasted. Every effort would go a long way in conserving our environment.