NEWS

Electronic waste filling garbage dumps

Computers are part of our lives, and no modern enterprise or state can do without them. But rapid technological progress also means rapid obsolescence, and millions of tons of electronic garbage are being dumped every year (6 million metric tons in the European Union in 1998), causing irreversible damage to the environment. By the end of 2004, more than 315 million computers will have been withdrawn from use. Mountains of monitors, cables, microchips, condensers and plastic will choke garbage dumps. The situation has already reached an impasse. The USA refuses to do anything about it, but the EU is pressing for legislation. Some firms have taken their own initiatives and some European states have begun to impose regulations. The EU will issue two directives in a few months’ time, making computer manufacturers responsible for the eventual fate of their products and suggesting changes in the materials used to make computers. By 2003, Greece will begin to implement the directive banning the dumping of used computers. In preparation for this, the Ecological Recycling Society has already started a two-year pilot program for recycling electronic waste, in cooperation with the Nea Smyrni municipality and with the backing of the Environment Ministry. This program will make the first attempt to collect unwanted computers from public warehouses and storerooms owned by businesses and private individuals. Waste production Computer manufacturing is one of the most rapidly developing sectors in the West. In the 1960s, the relatively few users kept their first computer for 10 years, a figure which has since dropped to an average of 4.3 years, and to as low as two years for some products. This has led to an estimated increase of 3-5 percent per annum in the volume of electronic waste. Nowadays, it is cheaper to buy a new computer than to upgrade an old one, which is why three quarters of the computers sold in the USA are now in storerooms and basements, and nobody knows what to do with them. Few recycled In 1999, 24 million computers were withdrawn from use, but only 14 percent of them were recycled. The rest were dumped or exported as waste from the USA. In the European Union in 1998, the number of computers recycled represented only 6 percent of the number of new computers sold. By contrast, the number of other electrical appliances such as dishwashers and freezers recycled amounted to 70 percent of the number of new appliances sold. And computer ownership is growing rapidly. Americans buy more computers than anyone else, and 50 percent of US households own a computer. From 1980 to 2000, 300 million monitors were sold, but by 1997 only 1.7 million had been recycled.