Green Jobs: Is Your Laptop Destroying the Environment? A Look at PC Consumption

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If we believe the environmentalists, this world is facing some scary stuff. Pollution and the reckless waste of finite resources threaten the earth that sustains us. Unless we find another suitable planet and a way to get there, we’re going to have to take care of this one. How do computers factor into environmental concerns? Good question.

Computers Impact the Environment Cradle to Grave 

Image via Flickr by Sean MacEntee

Computers have an environmental impact from the manufacturing process through disposal. Toxic chemicals and heavy metals are used during manufacturing. The manufacturing process also emits hazardous waste and poisonous gases, and consumes tremendous amounts of water.

During the computer’s lifetime, it consumes lots of power. The process for producing this power drains non-renenwable natural resources and produces harmful emissions, such as carbon dioxide. Even cleaning the computer can be environmentally damaging, because it usually involves using chlorofluorocarbons.

Perhaps the most damaging impact of computers is upon disposal. Computer batteries contain harmful metals such as cadmium, cobalt and lead. These metals leak out during decomposition and get into the soil, water, air and eventually our bodies.

According to the EPA, computer monitors can contain up to eight pounds of lead, which is toxic to humans. Laptops are kinder to the environment than desktops, partly because they’re smaller and contain less of these harmful substances and partly because they consume less power. For every 65-250 watts used by a desktop, laptops use only 15-70 watts.

Are There Any Environmental Advantages from Computers?

Image via Flickr by Roberto Verzo

It’s easy to see how computers get a bad rap, but environmentally speaking they’re not all evil. For instance, many argue that using computers lowers the amount of paper we use, which is an environmental benefit. Some even believe that computers keep people away from nature, which is a benefit in itself.

In reality, the amount of power used by computers is pale in comparison to the power consumed by our heating and cooling systems. It takes more power to keep your computer at a safe operating temperature (experts recommend below 80-degrees) than it takes to run your computer.

How to Reduce Your Computer’s Environmental Impact

Image via Flickr by withassociates

There are many steps you can take to reduce your computer’s impact on the environment.

  • Set your computer to automatic sleep mode after 15 minutes of inactivity.
  • Plug all your system components into a single power strip and turn it off when you shut down.
  • Always turn off your computer and peripheral components when not in use.
  • Since the display consumes most of the power, set the monitor brightness to the lowest setting you can see without straining your eyes.
  • Keep peripherals (such as speakers, printers and scanners) off when not in use.
  • Use a laptop when possible, because laptops consume less power than desktops.
  • When looking for laptop computer deals, look for Energy Star approved models.
  • Close applications you’re not using.

The biggest contribution you can make to the environment is disposing of old computer equipment properly. Never put electronic equipment in with regular garbage pickup. Contact local recycling programs or call your waste management company for the proper way to dispose of computer equipment in your area. Many organizations, such as schools, take up used electronic equipment and get rewards for recycling it. By recycling, the old computer becomes a new one instead of leaking its dangerous metals into the environment.


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