Plastic bags and Green IT – what is all the fuss about?

Last month Greenpeace produced their latest quarterly ‘Guide to Greener Electronics’. This makes worrying reading. According to this report the amount of electronics products discarded globally has skyrocketed, with 20-50 million tons generated every year. Apparently if this e-waste was put into containers on a train it would go once around the world.

Electronic waste (e-waste) now makes up five percent of all municipal solid waste worldwide, nearly the same amount as all plastic packaging, but it is much more hazardous. Whilst the UK press campaign for a reduction in the use of plastic bags – only a small part of packaging, the focus on technology waste is limited.

The WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Initiative) became law last year to try and address this issue. However according to a survey conducted by Informatics in February only a third of SMEs had heard of WEEE. The responses suggest that many SMEs in the IT and telecoms industries may be neglecting their environmental responsibilities. The report from this work added that SMEs generate 60 per cent of all commercial waste in England and Wales so it is critical that all users of electrical equipment understand what WEEE means for them.

In March this year VNU Net reported that UK consumers and business unnecessarily junk 12.5 million computers every year which end up in landfill, or dumped in the countryside. However, one recycling charity hinted at a lack the political will to do anything about the situation. Currently one on four people dumps their PCs at the local tip. Only one in ten people give their old PC to a friend or charity.

To compound the situation research suggests that the average lifespan of computers in developed countries has dropped from six years in 1997 to just two in 2005.

WEEE may help with recycling – but it doesn’t tackle the issue of the toxicity of individual computers. The Greenpeace report names and potentially shames vendors. Samsung comes out most favourably – and Nintendo is at the bottom of the list. More information at

Gloomy – yes. However, through greater awareness, there is the opportunity for computer users to recycle equipment in an environmentally friendly way and to put pressure on vendors to ‘Green up’ their products. I would encourage FD’s and accountants to add environmental standards to their evaluation criteria when buying new equipment

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