Green computers for a greener environment

What if someone tells you to buy a “green computer”? Not that the computer will be devoid of those complex electronic components. Neither will it be green in colour. What is actually meant is relatively recyclable and more environmentally safer computers.

In general, computer equipment is a complicated assembly of more than 1,000 materials. Many of these are highly toxic, such as heavy metals, chlorinated and brominated substances, toxic gases, plastics and plastic additives.

How is a green computer different?

Toxics Link, a Delhi based NGO provides a life cycle perspective for a greater understanding of the product’s environmental impact. This looks into the production, usage and final disposal of the computer.

Low energy usage and non toxic manufacturing processes are critical parameters to judge a computer on its green quotient.

The computer should have high operational power efficiency and should be designed for upgradation.

The reduction and elimination of hazardous material ensures minimum release of toxic material during the recycling process.

India’s E waste problem

E-waste, at around 4 lakh tonnes generated annually in India, is recycled mostly in informal sector in crude manner. The dismantling and recycling processes exposes the workers to the health hazards of lead, mercury, chromium, and cadmium. Once released they further contaminate the air, water and soil.

Silver linings

Toxics link, which monitors issues of e-waste, sees a positive shift in the computer manufacturing industry.

Computer manufacturers claim that they are not oblivious to the harms that their products can cause to the environment. And that’s why most companies have been coming out with greener version of the machines in the last few years.

However, Priti Mahesh, Senior Programme Officer at Toxics Link points out, “With growing awareness about environmental pollution, manufacturing companies view the green label as an USP for their product”.

There have been some initiatives globally in terms of voluntary labelling programmes to address the environment question of computers. This has also caused a notable shift in the way the products are being designed.

Simple tips to reduce energy use:

· Put the computer on standby or sleep when not in use

· Internet usage needs more energy. Go offline when not browsing the net

· LCD monitors use less than half the energy used by CRT monitors

· Laptops use less energy compared to desktops

· New processors are more energy efficient

Eco-labels are a primary tool to tell customers about the environmental characteristics of products. It can help them in making an informed choice about the products that they buy, help them in choosing a green product.

Lack of awareness

Mahesh who has done major work towards raising consumer awareness about “greener computers”, says “this is a new thing for India and therefore the awareness among consumers is also low.”

She points out that in the western countries consumers are aware and they ask for “Designed for Environment” computers. In India, awareness is low and small companies don’t see much value in adhering to the environment friendly norms.

There have been instances, informs the Programme Officer, when Western countries or organisations have sent second hand computers to Indian schools in the garb of donation. However, 80% of them have turned out to be junks.

A legislative push from the Government and green procurement policy by major users will help in driving the change. Manufacturing companies in India like HCL and Wipro have already initiated programmes for phasing out the restricted materials.

Technological advances are further helping the green drive. By just replacing the old CRT with a LCD, one can cut power consumption to more than half.

India is one of the fastest growing computer markets in the world. A growth in consumer awareness can be a major driver in ensuring environment-friendly PCs in our homes.