“The sound brought our group to a stop; we turned around to see the ice mass collapse with a roar. A section of the glacier crumbled in the middle, and chunks of ice as big as rooms spilled out on the crater floor.”
A description given by adventurer Vince Keipper as he summitted the top of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro and looked back. The fact is, the beautiful glaciers which give Mount Kilimanjaro its distinct appearance are disappearing at an alarming rate. Legendary author, Ernest Hemingway once used the following description to illustrate those 12,000 year old legendary peaks, “as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun”, but, few can say that now. Those very glaciers have lost 82 percent of their ice since 1912, and at the current rate of erosion, they will be ancient history by the year 2020. This is only one example of the devastating affect global warming is having on our environment.
So what does all of this have to do with technology? …..A lot!
Rapid technological change, low initial cost and even planned obsolescence have resulted in a high rate of turnover for network hardware appliances, creating a fast growing problem around the globe. IT manufacturers with financial incentives are brilliant at encouraging customers to buy the next iteration of their product, even if the existing one still works. The short lifespan of today’s IT equipment such as, de-installed routers and network switches from manufacturers such as Cisco, Juniper, Alcatel-Lucent, Nortel, Foundry and Extreme are contributing to a new form of scenery like, mountains of e-waste. Accumulated e-waste is either dumped in landfill sites or recycled in the secondary market. They are often processed in poorly managed facilities, in developing countries, leading to significant health risks and causing a major negative impact on the environment.
Did you know that chemicals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium emitted from discarded electronics are some of the biggest producers of greenhouse gases worldwide? A typical router or switch may contain more than 2% lead by weight, and up to thirty-eight separate chemical elements. A 24kg PC or server from manufacturers such as HP, Dell, Sun and IBM needs at least 240kg of fossil fuels and 22kg of chemicals to provide its energy. Compare this with cars or refrigerators, which use only between one and two times their weight in fossil fuels. Furthermore, The UN warns that people could be exposed to health risks at both ends of the short lifespan of networking equipment. Chemicals such as brominated, flame retardants and heavy metals including lead and cadmium pose potential risks to factory workers and can also contaminate water supplies near landfill sites where old computers are dumped.
Due to lower environmental standards and working conditions in China, India, Kenya, and elsewhere, electronic waste is being sent to these countries for processing – in most cases illegally. The majority of defunct and junked e-waste ends up being broken down by ill-equipped laborers in hazardous conditions. Uncontrolled burning and disposal are causing environmental and health problems due to the methods of processing the waste. Slowly, these disposal methods emit harmful gases which deplete our atmosphere and have emerged as a major contributor to global warming.
Each year, more than 130 million computers are produced worldwide. In the United States alone, an estimated 14 to 20 million PCs and network appliances are thrown out each year, while developing nations are expected to triple their output of all electronic waste by 2010. By 2005, more than 250 million personal computers will become obsolete. This is evidenced by the average lifespan of PCs, which is falling from 4.5 years in 1992 to an estimated 2 years in 2005. Across the European Union, electrical equipment is the fastest growing category of rubbish, with around 20kg per person produced every year, and, “the UK alone is now generating around 1m tons of the stuff every year,” said energy minister Malcolm Wicks.
If you do the math, it is clear, that the current trend of mass production with no regard for corporate social responsibility cannot continue. If we continue at our current rate of consumption, our children can look forwards to inheriting a world with blistering temperatures, severe storms, and 13 of the world’s 15 largest cities submerged by seawater. Imagine a complete loss of coral reefs, the disappearance of Pacific islands, the extinction of thousands of species of plants and animals, contamination of fresh water supplies and more than a hundred million refugees. Those of us who have not been living under a rock have, no doubt, already noticed a drastic change in the last 2 years alone.
It is no coincidence that 2005 brought the onslaught of the deadliest hurricane season on record, climaxing on Monday, 29 August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina careened into the Gulf Coast, putting 80% of New Orleans under water, resulting in the nation’s most costly natural disaster ever recorded. Katrina claimed more than 1,600 lives, destroyed 200,000 Gulf Coast homes, and displaced about 1 million people. But, that is nothing compared to the devastation and loss of life experienced just one year prior, when on December, 26th the deadliest tsunami in history pummeled the coast of Southern Asia, and shocked the world with a reported death toll at more than 300,000 people. Most recently, and fortunately, less costly than the previous examples cited, are recent reports about the 2006/2007 winter being the warmest and driest on record.
How many more weather related records do we need to break before we wake up? How many more people need to lose their lives through violent weather changes? Global warming is real, and we can not continue looking the other way. It is because of this lack of awareness that environmental impact is seldom a major factor in corporate buying decision. However, the consumption culture as we know it, is about to drastically change.
This information is not intended to scare you, but rather to serve as evidence to the changing world around us. Human beings are a robust species, and historically we have always adjusted to survive. We need to acknowledge the signs around us and react before it’s too late. For years now, the United Nations and Greenpeace have been warning of the dangers that computers, IT hardware and other office equipment pose to the environment. This change will begin with awareness, and ultimately result in a radical new green ideology.
The days when businesses could send a product into the marketplace without first considering how it might impact the environment are over. Global recycling and product recovery programs, where businesses take responsibility for what they make and sell are already under way worldwide.
Soon, green legislation will have an impact on every manufacturer in the world. “Not far from now, ‘non-green’ parts will be assigned end of life status and green legislation will come to impact every single PC manufacturer,” said Mike Escherich, the principal research analyst at Gartner (leading information and technology research and advisory firm). “The worldwide market should expect to see longer lead times, part shortages and rising prices for non-compliant parts over the next two years. These costs will probably be passed on to consumers. Analyst firm Gartner estimates that it could add about £30 to the price of a new PC in Europe. A small price to pay for our future generations well being.
After many delays, The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations governing the safe disposal of IT equipment were finally passed into law in the European Union, confirming that the new legislation will come into full effect in July of 2007. The law will place a greater administrative burden on suppliers of computer equipment. They will have to register with waste schemes and more closely track their products in order to pay for their disposal. Under the new law, manufacturers will have until March, 15th 2007 to register with approved disposal schemes, and by 1 April all new equipment will have to be marked with WEEE labels displaying a crossed out wheelie bin and date code. The directive will then come into full effect on 1 July, with producers taking responsibility for treating and recycling household and business WEEE.
The first of its kind, but certainty not the last, this pioneering green computer law, is setting the stage for the future. Similar laws and regulations are being considered now in the United States. Congress is debating a number of electronic waste bills including the National Computer Recycling Act introduced by Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA). This bill has continually stalled, however. In the meantime, several states have passed their own laws regarding electronic waste management. California was the first state to enact such legislation, followed by Maryland, Maine, and Washington. It is only a matter of time until general ethics evolve to include electronic waste disposal. For our children, the idea of throwing an old monitor in the dumpster will be as unsettling as it is form some of us to throw trash on the floor.
Several new businesses have emerged to meet this new demand, and help companies comply with the new legislation outlines for approved disposal schemes. One such company was recently established by the CEO of Digital Warehouse and UsedCisco.com, Joe Asady. The new business is called, Network Recycler.com. “Our model is to help protect the environment by providing a system and environmentally friendly way of disposing of end of life network equipment” said Mr. Asady. He then enthusiastically elaborated on his concept, “NetworkRecycler.com will be your single source recycling service provider. We can help you stay in compliance with government regulations by properly disposing of your obsolete and excess network and communication equipment”. NetworkRecycler.com has opened offices in New York, Amsterdam and Bangalore, India to help meet the growing worldwide demand for recycling network hardware. Everyone at the newly established business is very excited about the recent ideological changes sweeping Europe, and soon to reach the United States. Mr. Asady described his team as enthusiastic and optimistic, “people here are excited about making a difference, and it is really nice to be a part of something that is helping protect the world we live in”. Several other similar companies are forming worldwide, and soon, an entirely new industry will emerge from the concept of E-waste recycling.
Mr. Asady’s vision does not end there. As the CEO of both Digital Warehouse and UsedCisco.com he has been protecting the environment since 1998. Both businesses fore mentioned are major players in the global secondary market for used network hardware. Facilitated by the new awareness for computer recycling, an already, $3 billion dollar used network hardware industry is poised to grow considerably in the upcoming years. “Traditionally, people would shy away from used equipment because of the inherent risk that it presented”, Claimed Mr. Asady. “However, with current competition in the secondary market we have raised our quality standards. We now provide guarantee’s that outlast even the original warranty given when the unit was new”.
Used network equipment is often renovated by various resellers such as Digital Warehouse. Afterwards, they are sold in the secondary market at up to 90% off of list price. Products are available even in the most sophisticated and obscure models, and when they come with a warranty that supersedes even that of the original manufacturer customers are often jubilated with the value. Not to mention, when they buy used equipment they are also helping to eliminate e-waste and protect our environment.
One in every dozen computers used worldwide is a “secondary computer,” and about 152.5 million used systems were shipped in 2004, according to a study released Wednesday by market research firm Gartner. Gartner also said that both the home and professional markets for secondary PCs will continue to see growth in the next several years, fueled by better computer performance, longer system life, and recent recycling legislation that gives companies a greater incentive to sell their used machines. I am sure Mr. Asady and his team will have their hands full in the coming years with the recent explosion of wealth and opportunity in places like India and China. Through recent advances in technology, coupled with complex new economic foreign policies abroad, developing countries are much more likely to accept used hardware as a viable technology option because of the savings they afford.
To put this all into perspective, I want to cite the following example: When Henry Ford invented the automobile, the world was transformed by its speed and convenience, but few people considered what millions of automobiles might mean for the world’s energy supply and climate a century down the road. Hopefully, we can learn from the lessons of our ancestors during the industrial revolution, and preemptively react for the current computer revolution sweeping our planet. The days when businesses could send a product into the marketplace without first considering how it might impact the environment are over. Global recycling and product recovery programs, where businesses take responsibility for what they make and sell, require little effort on the part of consumers, and they pay off!
Whether you are an IT manager, global CEO or a mere home PC user, the implications are the same. E-waste is a problem, e-waste is real! Although we are taking some steps in the right direction, a lot more needs to be considered. So please, do your share to get involved with e-waste awareness, help efforts to reduce energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions and start to consider the secondary market as a viable alternative to purchasing new equipment. Most importantly, help spread the word!!