Linked by Howard Fosdick on Wed 7th Jul 2010 16:58 UTC
Editorial Last month, I described how the computer industry encourages planned obsolescence in order to sell more product. This business model exacerbates the problem of computer disposal because it artificially shortens computer lifespans. This increases production and, ultimately, the numbers requiring disposal. One result is that e-waste -- electronics waste -- is one now one of our most pressing environmental challenges. Updated
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Good Article & Freecycle
by DBAlex on Wed 7th Jul 2010 17:53 UTC
DBAlex
Member since:
2006-12-31

Thanks for posting this!

I have some old PC's that I never got rid of for this reason... I don't want some poor person in another country having to dismantle my monitor and inhaling all the noxious crap that's inside it, or the fumes from melting PC components either.

I didn't really want to give them to recyclers for the same reason incase they ended up in landfill. I know it's only making a small impact, since people chuck these things away every day.

Good advice though, maybe I'll try giving them to a computer charity now.

Also Freecycle is another good way of donating an old PC to people in your local area.

Reply Score: 1

RE: Good Article & Freecycle
by OSNevvs on Wed 7th Jul 2010 18:45 UTC in reply to "Good Article & Freecycle"
OSNevvs Member since:
2009-08-20

Freecycle is an excellent initiative. Every week there are people giving away computers in my city. All my friends know about this web site. I only use Freecycle for clothing and lots of computer parts now.

Reply Score: 1

RE: Good Article & Freecycle
by Googol on Sat 10th Jul 2010 07:05 UTC in reply to "Good Article & Freecycle"
Googol Member since:
2006-11-24

Yes, you don't want to see your PC end up as African landfill.

However, it is a bit of a concern that I cannot find "WEEE" mentioned in an article and +30 comments. The US could take some clues from that piece of legislation.

Also, the world should thank Europe for RohS, since this ousts hazardous materials to some extent not only in EU but everywhere (because manufacturers all over the world want to export to EU and hence have to comply).

Reply Score: 2

Manufactured Landscapes
by jabbotts on Wed 7th Jul 2010 17:57 UTC
jabbotts
Member since:
2007-09-06

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0832903/

This is a great movie on the topic.

Reply Score: 2

Free Geek
by foobaz on Wed 7th Jul 2010 18:48 UTC
foobaz
Member since:
2009-12-05

I volunteer at Free Geek Portland and have had a great time there. I meet interesting people and it is nice to do something positive with my spare time.

Reply Score: 1

Comment by mtzmtulivu
by mtzmtulivu on Wed 7th Jul 2010 18:52 UTC
mtzmtulivu
Member since:
2006-11-14

There are a lot of people in the world who are in need of computers. Why isnt there an effort to match people who no longer need their perfectly working computers because they are upgrading to those who are in need of one?

Reply Score: 3

RE: Comment by mtzmtulivu
by foldingstock on Wed 7th Jul 2010 19:10 UTC in reply to "Comment by mtzmtulivu"
foldingstock Member since:
2008-10-30

There are a lot of people in the world who are in need of computers. Why isnt there an effort to match people who no longer need their perfectly working computers because they are upgrading to those who are in need of one?


Two reasons: a lack of knowledge(1) and proprietary software(2)

1) Most people know very little about their computer and don't realize that a spyware ridden computer can work perfectly fine after wiping the spyware and/or reinstalling the OS. People that don't know this assume their computer is "old and useless" and would prefer to chunk it instead of donating it to someone.

2) With proprietary software licenses, you do not actually own the software on your computer. Instead, you own a license that allows you to use the software. This can create a hairy situation when you shift ownership to someone else who was not originally licensed to use the software. This may or may not be a problem, but it will be if the new owner ever needs to reinstall and reactivate the proprietary software originally installed on the computer.

Reply Score: 4

RE[2]: Comment by mtzmtulivu
by Zifre on Wed 7th Jul 2010 23:39 UTC in reply to "RE: Comment by mtzmtulivu"
Zifre Member since:
2009-10-04

Most people know very little about their computer and don't realize that a spyware ridden computer can work perfectly fine after wiping the spyware and/or reinstalling the OS. People that don't know this assume their computer is "old and useless" and would prefer to chunk it instead of donating it to someone.

This always makes me want to cry. I hear stories all the time: "Yeah, my old computer started getting slow, and I think I got a virus, so I threw it away and got a new computer." And I tell them: "Tell me that before you do that and just give the computer to me. I could just wipe the hard drive and get rid of the virus." And then they don't believe that that is even possible... ;)

Reply Score: 5

RE[2]: Comment by mtzmtulivu
by BluenoseJake on Thu 8th Jul 2010 11:03 UTC in reply to "RE: Comment by mtzmtulivu"
BluenoseJake Member since:
2005-08-11

Two reasons: a lack of knowledge(1) and proprietary software(2)

1) Most people know very little about their computer and don't realize that a spyware ridden computer can work perfectly fine after wiping the spyware and/or reinstalling the OS. People that don't know this assume their computer is "old and useless" and would prefer to chunk it instead of donating it to someone.

2) With proprietary software licenses, you do not actually own the software on your computer. Instead, you own a license that allows you to use the software. This can create a hairy situation when you shift ownership to someone else who was not originally licensed to use the software. This may or may not be a problem, but it will be if the new owner ever needs to reinstall and reactivate the proprietary software originally installed on the computer.


Ok, #1 I agree with, but #2, no way.

Most OEM PCs, which is the way most people get Windows, has the license for Windows attached to the PC, not the user. There is nothing stopping somebody, anybody from reinstalling an OEM copy of Windows on those PCs. Most other software can be installed on 1 pc at a time so it can be moved to another pc, so that statement doesn't really stand up under scrutiny.

Reply Score: 2

RE: Comment by mtzmtulivu
by JeeperMate on Wed 7th Jul 2010 19:51 UTC in reply to "Comment by mtzmtulivu"
JeeperMate Member since:
2010-06-12

There are a lot of people in the world who are in need of computers. Why isnt there an effort to match people who no longer need their perfectly working computers because they are upgrading to those who are in need of one?

It all boils down to at least two things: cost and import/export restrictions. The former is usually the most fundamental; we need some money to collect, store, and finally distribute those used computers. Voluntary participation isn't enough to such reuse in an interstate basis (i.e. collect used computers from one wealthy state and distribute them in another).

Import-export restrictions apply mainly to efforts that cross national boundaries.

Reply Score: 1

Old computers to charity
by lordepox on Wed 7th Jul 2010 18:53 UTC
lordepox
Member since:
2010-04-14

I have personally refurbished many older computers for schools and charities, the only problem with this being power consumption. It's a fact that older computers (P2, P3, MacG5) take orders of magnitude more power than today's computer, and get less performance per watt from that power. Does the savings in landfill and waste justify the carbon footprint of these "gas guzzler"? While there is no easy answer to this, I always try to use the latest hardware to refurbish, and leave the really old stuff to be actuLly recycled.

Reply Score: 1

RE: Old computers to charity
by umccullough on Wed 7th Jul 2010 19:39 UTC in reply to "Old computers to charity"
umccullough Member since:
2006-01-26

It's a fact that older computers (P2, P3, MacG5) take orders of magnitude more power than today's computer,


Actually, you are wrong. PII/PIII for example use much less peak power than today's multi-core processors. Don't believe me? Accumulate a large number of machines and start testing their power usage at the wall with a watt-meter, then come back and provide your results.

and get less performance per watt from that power.


But this part I'll agree with.

Does the savings in landfill and waste justify the carbon footprint of these "gas guzzler"? While there is no easy answer to this, I always try to use the latest hardware to refurbish, and leave the really old stuff to be actuLly recycled.


It depends entirely on the use of the hardware. If the recycled computer is used only an hour or two a day, it probably makes very little actual difference in energy usage. (especially if the task is not CPU-intensive to begin with)

If it's left on 24x7, then things start to get fuzzy. Just like with a car, the more you actually drive it, the more gas mileage actually matters - otherwise an older "functional" car is perfectly fine for the occasional trip down the road.

It's often more energy efficient to reuse than to replace/recycle. Beware of greenwashers who would like you to believe otherwise.

Edited 2010-07-07 19:43 UTC

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Old computers to charity
by lordepox on Wed 7th Jul 2010 20:29 UTC in reply to "RE: Old computers to charity"
lordepox Member since:
2010-04-14

In a processor to processor test a Nahalem does use more power than a P3, but what I was referring to (and maybe I wasn't specific enough) was P2 complete systems. Today's hard drives and other internals have better power management features than before. A complete system now can run a web browser at idle for under 20 watts, a P2 or P3 system would be atleast 75 watts for the same given performance. Yes, the issue of software licensing can come into play, but if you use open source software that is eliminated. Where I live electricity costs $0.45 a kWh, so if your only paying $0.09 it may be different. I've replaced entire racks of systems and saved more money in electric in one year than the new machines costs. It all depends on your perspective and situation. If you were in the Sahara desert, than 100 watts is a lot, and that 10 watt netbook looks rather nice to run off solar.

Reply Score: 1

umccullough Member since:
2006-01-26

Where I live electricity costs $0.45 a kWh, so if your only paying $0.09 it may be different. I've replaced entire racks of systems and saved more money in electric in one year than the new machines costs. It all depends on your perspective and situation. If you were in the Sahara desert, than 100 watts is a lot, and that 10 watt netbook looks rather nice to run off solar.


Indeed, and if you have many machines running 24x7 - as I said before, it would make a difference. As a residential PG&E customer, who often hits Tier 5 above Baseline (which is $0.31/kWh), I understand the pain of high power bills as well, and I have replaced several older rack-mounted machines with lower powered Atom-based machines for that very reason.

But, that doesn't mean that a PII/III machine used for an hour of email or Facebook each day is a bad thing - and I suspect most home users actually shut their computers off after using them rather than relying on power management features. And even an older PIII ATX machine will go to sleep with power management enabled.

In the grand scheme of things, recycling older machines by putting Linux on them, and giving them to people who can't otherwise afford a $300 computer sure seems like a good idea to me - especially if they only use them for word processing and school homework.

Reply Score: 3

RE[4]: Old computers to charity
by helf on Thu 8th Jul 2010 13:31 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Old computers to charity"
helf Member since:
2005-07-06

It's totally worth it for the people that couldn't otherwise afford a computer.

I've done the same thing with Pentium II/III/IV computers. Cleaned then up, install Ubuntu or whatever OS is best suiting the specs of the computer and given them to needy families.

Reply Score: 2

Good to bring this to attention
by Zaitch on Wed 7th Jul 2010 19:03 UTC
Zaitch
Member since:
2007-11-23

This is a really worthy topic.

In the UK at least, there was a programme on BBC3 recently called Blood Sweat and Luxuries: Gold and eWaste which covered this topic http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00sch78 sadly iPlayer is not showing it right now, but it will inevitably be repeated

It was a real eye opener for me, and I regret I did not know more of this before. Hundreds, thousands of tonnes of used computers - most branded with corporate / government asset tags, including a lot from the UK, just dumped in Africa by so called legitimate recycling companies.

basically, these organisations handing off responsibility to 3rd parties without any sort of checking what they were actually doing.

Then kids were scrabbling about the huge dumps scavenging stuff, burning the toxic plastics and such like to extract tiny amounts of metal for resale, breathing awful fumes. it was utterly dreadful.

I agree repositioning and reusing old kit is the preferred option, but at some point, there is the end of a line, where even the reusers won't touch it, so provision needs to be made for kit at this point. It was scandalous to see all this western equipment dumped like this.

Reply Score: 1

Comment by robojerk
by robojerk on Wed 7th Jul 2010 20:11 UTC
robojerk
Member since:
2006-01-10

http://www.comedycentral.com/shows/futurama/index.jhtml
Watch the E-Waste Delivery scene from "Attack of the Killer App"

Reply Score: 3

RE: Comment by robojerk
by robojerk on Thu 8th Jul 2010 00:13 UTC in reply to "Comment by robojerk"
robojerk Member since:
2006-01-10
Problem will solve itself
by nt_jerkface on Wed 7th Jul 2010 22:53 UTC
nt_jerkface
Member since:
2009-08-26

The move to laptops will severely cut down on waste, especially with the demise of CRT monitors.

Reliability improves every year which will reduce waste even further.

Reply Score: 2

RE: Problem will solve itself
by license_2_blather on Thu 8th Jul 2010 02:46 UTC in reply to "Problem will solve itself"
license_2_blather Member since:
2006-02-05

Reliability improves every year which will reduce waste even further.


With desktops, maybe. But I've never retired a desktop because it was broken, and some I had longer then 10 years.

With laptops, no. The poor cooling seems to just kill them, as with all electronics. I haven't seen that situation improve, at least with the fairly-powerful laptops I've bought.

Reply Score: 1

nt_jerkface Member since:
2009-08-26


With laptops, no. The poor cooling seems to just kill them, as with all electronics. I haven't seen that situation improve, at least with the fairly-powerful laptops I've bought.


Laptops run cooler and have hard drives that are much more reliable than ones from 10 years ago. Not as reliable as desktops but they have gotten better.

As for your situation I would suggest buying a Toshiba Satellite. I spilled an entire 12oz latte on the keyboard of one and it kept ticking.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Problem will solve itself
by Zifre on Thu 8th Jul 2010 16:07 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Problem will solve itself"
Zifre Member since:
2009-10-04

As for your situation I would suggest buying a Toshiba Satellite. I spilled an entire 12oz latte on the keyboard of one and it kept ticking.

I would actually recommend not getting a Toshiba Satellite. Many of the models have huge issues with cooling. I can't even run my laptop for more than an hour without overheating (especially in this 30 C weather...). Other than that though, they are very nice laptops, though a bit expensive.

Reply Score: 2

nt_jerkface Member since:
2009-08-26

Which model?

Some laptops are shipped with power settings that are based on testing in a cooler environment. Try turning down the maximum processor state in power settings.

Reply Score: 2

RE: Problem will solve itself
by BluenoseJake on Thu 8th Jul 2010 11:16 UTC in reply to "Problem will solve itself"
BluenoseJake Member since:
2005-08-11

Not really, laptops cannot be stripped for parts and used in a new computer(other than RAM and HD). Components from desktops can be used for years, moved from box to box. Monitors, keyboards, mice, NICs, video cards, hard drives, ram are all parts that can be re purposed. Laptops, you have to upgrade the whole widgit.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Problem will solve itself
by helf on Thu 8th Jul 2010 13:34 UTC in reply to "RE: Problem will solve itself"
helf Member since:
2005-07-06

That's for sure. I still use a dual Pentium III Tualatin box (1.4ghz) all the time. The case is one from a P2 I had had years earlier, some of the memory is from the P2, video card is from the p2, some of the HDDs are from the p2, ditto for the soundcard. I've also slapped some new parts in it. PCs are far mroe "eco friendly" than laptops imo :p

I plan on using this p3 box for many many more years.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: Problem will solve itself
by nt_jerkface on Mon 12th Jul 2010 23:42 UTC in reply to "RE: Problem will solve itself"
nt_jerkface Member since:
2009-08-26

Not really, laptops cannot be stripped for parts and used in a new computer(other than RAM and HD). Components from desktops can be used for years, moved from box to box. Monitors, keyboards, mice, NICs, video cards, hard drives, ram are all parts that can be re purposed.

Most desktops are dumped entirely for a new one. It's only the geeks that keep switching parts out.

Reply Score: 2

Great article
by StephenBeDoper on Wed 7th Jul 2010 23:31 UTC
StephenBeDoper
Member since:
2005-07-06

Great article, as was the previous one.

Two things I would add:

1) For those of us in the Great White North, Industry Canada has a program called "Computers for Schools" - they refurbish donated computers & distribute them to schools, libraries, NPOs, etc.

http://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cfs-ope.nsf/eng/Home

On the flipside, there's a site called VFXweb that sells refurbished hardware for absurdly little - the prices are usually on par with what you can find on eBay, without being as much of a crap-shoot.

http://vfxweb.com

I don't think there's anything listed there for more than $200 CAD, including PCs with licensed copies of XP included. It's actually the cheapest legit method I've seen for getting an XP license these days... which is probably a large part of the problem, the fact that it's often cheaper to be wasteful (in general, but particularly with computers and consumer electronics). But, I digress.

2) in addition to the big-picture benefits, there are also some direct, immediate benefits to the end user. The obvious one is cost - E.g. you can get a used/refurb'd ultralight laptop for about the same cost as a high-end netbook, which will have almost the exact same virtues of a netbook (size & weight) but with much more capable hardware.

The other direct benefit of used/refurb'd hardware is less obvious, almost downright counterintuitive: reliability. Based on my own highly-unscientific, anecdotal experience, used hardware actually tends to fail *less* than brand-new hardware. There are probably some larger enconomic/cultural factors at play, but (IMO) it boils down to this: working, used hardware is much more of a "known quantity" than hardware that's brand-new.

Reply Score: 2

I already recycle
by WereCatf on Thu 8th Jul 2010 00:36 UTC
WereCatf
Member since:
2006-02-15

I already recycle, atleast in my own way; I never throw away any working electronics, even if it is outdated and in no way useful to me anymore. I've gotten a full closet of such stuff nowadays and it's taking some space. But I think it's well worth it. I've sometimes had something break up on me suddenly and I've had to use the outdated stuff in the meantime while waiting to get a new one, and I've had friends asking me for spare sparts quite a many times. It's saved both me and friends some money and needless new parts.

Eventually when I can't really store any more stuff I'll go through them, find the ones I think are of least probable use to anyone and find some electronics recycling center for them.

Reply Score: 2

RE: I already recycle
by license_2_blather on Thu 8th Jul 2010 02:57 UTC in reply to "I already recycle"
license_2_blather Member since:
2006-02-05

I've given a couple old machines away, and run several others for 7-10 years or more as servers or firewalls after they became too outdated to run ever-more-bloated desktop software. I even hung onto them after that, until I ran out of storage space.

The Free Geek idea intrigues me, but I don't know how much demand there would be in my smaller town. I also don't know how much people that aren't completely destitute are interested in a 6-year-old PC running Linux when they can get a netbook running Windows (like their friends, schools, and jobs do) for $300-$400.

Reply Score: 1

Economics
by daddio on Thu 8th Jul 2010 02:33 UTC
daddio
Member since:
2007-07-14

You just want to take jobs away from nigerian children.

Why do you hate the children?

...in all seriousness, though, refurbishing a few machines will help those you give them to (so I'm for it).
I just refurbed a machine this last week for my luddite brother, who has decided to start college at age 30;

Lets not kid ourselves about this activity making a dent in the mountain of e-waste being generated and shipped overseas.

And lets not pretend that everybody's going to be happy if we try to stop the waste export. There are whole communities that exist around waste recycling. They may not understand the toxicity of the chemicals they are burning, but they know that they depend on the money it brings in.

I don't have the answers, but instead of complaining about the current situation, why not actually think of real alternatives, so we can debate the pros and cons of each choice.

Reply Score: 1

RE: Economics
by orfanum on Thu 8th Jul 2010 06:53 UTC in reply to "Economics"
orfanum Member since:
2006-06-02

/Sarcasm on

Oh, yes, and remember that hand-wringing liberals really won't make a difference to current trends in people smuggling, either. Why do we hate slave-traders? They may not care what they do, but they understand that the amount of money they make gives them some benefit.

/Sarcasm off

Reply Score: 2

robcj
Member since:
2007-10-11

For instance, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, our waste management system is far superior to most municipalities in the world. This includes e-waste management, which is actually recycled at local facility:

http://www.edmonton.ca/for_residents/garbage_recycling/geep-electri...

There's no reason a similar system could not be employed in other municipalities.

Reply Score: 1

daddio Member since:
2007-07-14

That would be really great!

Local handling of the waste really would be the best of all possible worlds.
As long as they can make money or at least break even on the process, I absolutely favor handling it at a municipal level.

...so I guess that means I want to take jobs away from Nigerian children too. ;)

Edited 2010-07-08 18:58 UTC

Reply Score: 1

Howard, slow down...
by retroworks on Fri 9th Jul 2010 09:39 UTC
retroworks
Member since:
2010-07-09

Overall a well-written piece, but it recycles several myths about the "e-waste" business. I wrote some pieces like this about ten years ago. Since that time, I left the environmental regulatory field and became active in the electronics recycling and (gasp!) exporting business. As a former Peace Corps volunteer and intl relations major, I was comfortable flying to visit these end markets profiled by 60 minutes etc., hoping to somehow reform them and to create a "fair trade" scenario.

What I found is that the ingenuity of the technicians in countries which manufactured the PCs has been vastly underestimated, and that the photos you repost (from BAN.org) are cartoonish. Yes, places like Guiyu exist. And there are dead people at hospitals. If you take someone unfamiliar with a hospital on a tour via the morgue, they could write an eyewitness "scandal" piece - that most people sent to hospitals are not healed but killed. About 70% of exports are properly recycled. 30% is too high a reside rate, and those refurbishers need fair trade incentives to deal with junk along for the ride, but a boycott of those markets works about as well as a boycott on coffee to help coffee farmers. E-Stewards in particular has taken a "war on drugs" approach to demand for affordable PCs, and most of the recyclers have stopped refurbishing in favor of shredding.

Here was an attempt I made to get the "Myths" about ewaste recycling out in the open and to freshen the debate.
http://retroworks.blogspot.com/2010/04/top-ten-myths-about-e-waste....

Elsewhere in my blog you'll find photos and film of exceptional export operations in Malaysia, Indonesia, China, and Africa. For monitors and P3-p4 exports, most (about 70%) of the imports are purchased for white box PC remanufacture, and in the case of monitors especially, the upgrading is done at the same exact factories in the same working conditions as the original monitor was made(Foxconn, BenQ, Proview, Wistron).

The Basel Convention, under Annex IX B1110 explicitly acknowledges these factories and states they are completely legal.

In the 60 Minutes piece, the export container clearly shows "toxics along for the ride" (junk mixed in with refurbishable product) and producer Solly Granatstein gets credit for exposing a USA hypocrite. However, CBS also had photographic evidence of the factories in Guangdong which purchase the monitors in the Hong Kong segment. Most telling, there is not a single monitor to be seen in Guiyu (the morgue). It's outrageous.

My company does NOT export PCs for scrap, we demanufacture P3 and below in the USA, and I'm afraid of getting a bad rep by defending our contract manufacturing/refurb partners overseas. I also have lowball competitors who don't hire people to remove bad junk from the export containers, and welcome scrutiny to level the playing field. But it is painful to see engineers who manufactured the CRT monitors depicted as hammer-wielding, sandal-wearing Viet Cong. This has become a campaign worthy of Senator tailgunner Joe McCarthy. "Are you now, or have you ever been, an exporter of e-waste?"

Anyway, I respect what you are writing and you will find I agree with you on much. But the "Al Jolson" stereotypes of the export markets really needs to stop. There are no photos being shown of the factories which purchase 5000 used monitors per day and refurbish them to new condition, sold in boxes with warrantees to markets desperate for a $30 display device. There is not a PC to be seen anywhere in many of the BAN photos (mainly kids at landfills which have about as many electronics in them as Nigeria would domestically generate - certainly not enough evidence to say that 80% of the imports are junk).

The export business certainly has flaws, but most of these will be overcome by having better people export more product, giving the refurbishers more choices, and better incentives to manage "toxics along for the ride".

I hope you will check out the good ideas that our out there, including the idea to get a "spare tire" OS onto every government purchased PC via EPEAT. There are some fresh ideas out there in the "fair trade" market for used PCs. http://retroworks.blogspot.com/2010/03/two-good-ideas-for-solving-e... I like the references to Vance Packard's "Waste Makers" (planned obsolescence) and there is definitely a lot to write about. Unfortunately, the anti-export crusade is largely about obsolescence in hindsight, as USA manufacturers try to stop the contract manufacters like Foxconn from refurbishing their PCs and selling them again via Tiger Direct (search "Dell v. Tiger Direct" for the 2009 lawsuit, followed weeks later by Dell's "no export of intact units" policy).

Reply Score: 2

RE: Howard, slow down...
by benali72 on Sat 10th Jul 2010 01:06 UTC in reply to "Howard, slow down..."
benali72 Member since:
2008-05-03

So, as an exporter, do you believe the U.S.A. should ratify and conform to the Basel agreements? Why or why not?

Reply Score: 1