UK envisions zero waste: What about computers?

Recycling is part of our daily lives. We do it everyday with plastics, newspapers and other general household things.

Recycling is part of our daily lives. We do it everyday with plastics, newspapers and other general household things. Cars are now recycled throughout North America and Europe at high efficiency rates.

Everything seems to be covered, right? Computers and batteries face recycling problems. We already know that a lot of high tech materials wind up in China and the Far East for disassembly and "recycling" with serious health consequences for the local populations. And then there's the energy required to recycle. It's more than most of us realize.

Computers are a nightmare. Yet governments around the world are now passing laws that will require the development of  new techniques that are efficient, safe and capable of mass quantity capabilities. And it's not just your household PC anymore that needs unique recycling capabilities. PDAs, smartphones and the wide range of batteries used are areas of concern that require unique technologies. The average cell phone is used for 18 months or less. That creates a huge landfill problem.

In a press release by the Minister of Environment for the U.K. Hilary Benn:

"We need to rethink how we view and treat waste in the UK.  Why do we send valuable items like aluminium and food waste to landfill when we can turn them into new cans and renewable energy?  Why use more resources than we need to in manufacturing?  We must now work together to build a zero waste nation - where we reduce the resources we use, reuse and recycle all that we can and only landfill things that have absolutely no other use.

"To do this all of us - government, local authorities, businesses and consumers - must do our bit.  And we must make this moment the turning point on our journey to eliminate wasteful waste.”

"Using new technologies will help us to re-use things, for example anaerobic digestion that creates energy from food and farm waste.  And businesses can apply the technology at their fingertips to design innovative products that use less resources or contain recycled materials.

"In ten years time 75 per cent of household waste will either be recycled or used for energy, and over time this figure will increase even further.  Aiming for zero waste is the way we have to think to get us to where we need to be."

Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government John Denham added:

"If we continue to send recyclable or compostable waste to landfill we are missing a major opportunity to generate heat and energy and missing an opportunity to turn that waste into money. We can save planet whilst keeping money in resident’s pockets.

·         England should more than halve the amount of waste going to landfill in the next 10 years – early next year we will consult on what recyclable and compostable items should be banned from landfill and how a ban will work.

·         In ten years time 75 per cent of household waste will either be recycled or used for energy, and over time this figure will increase even further.

·  New research out today shows it is possible to divert 500,000 tonnes of household waste per year through re-using it.

Nations around the world have such goals and laws becoming enforceable. Shredding has been a classic way to recycle some components. The problem is the heavy metals and toxins that are left behind.

Wikipedia lists most of the components such as:

dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), cadmium, chromium, radioactive isotopes, and mercury. A typical computer monitor may contain more than 6% lead by weight, much of which is in the lead glass of the cathode ray tube (CRT). A typical 15-inch computer monitor may contain 1.5 pounds of lead,but other monitors have been estimated as having up to 8 pounds of lead.Circuit boards contain considerable quantities of lead-tin solders and are even more likely to leach into groundwater or to create air pollution via incineration. Additionally, the processing required to reclaim the precious substances (including incineration and acid treatments) may release, generate, and synthesize further toxic byproducts.

CRT's are becoming obsolete and the amount of lead being used in a computer is significantly less than it was five years ago.

Let's hope that of the 25% of waste Mr. Benn says will still go to landfills, are not the gadgets we just mentioned, because today, it's probably close to 90% that do.