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Environmental footprint of a personal computer (PC)

Environmental footprint of a personal computer (PC)

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This study considers the environmental impact of a personal computer (PC). It looks at all stages of a PC’s life, from manufacturing, distribution and use to disposal. While product distribution was found to have a minimal environmental impact, the environmental impact due to manufacturing and use is significant.

The environmental impact of the use of PCs depends on the electricity source. This study was assuming the PC would be used in China, where electricity is mainly produced by fossil fuels, therefore having a large negative impact on the environment (e.g. from the release of greenhouse gases). PCs used in countries that have a higher proportion of renewable electricity will have less of an impact on the environment in the usage stage.

The study suggests that disposal, when done to a high standard (recycling where possible and use of technology that minimizes release of toxic substances into the environment), can result in an environmental benefit, if the components that make up a PC can be reused instead of extracting new natural resources. Disposal that is done poorly however, such as landfilling the entire system, with no protection from the release of toxic substances, has a large negative impact on the environment. Many parts of a PC contain hazardous materials that, when released into the environment, have negative impacts on human health such as increased risk of cancer or even death.

Link to full report

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Based on the results of this study, there are a few things you can do to reduce the impact on the environment from using a PC.

  • Given the significant environmental impact of manufacturing a PC, you might want to consider buying a second hand PC, rather than a new one (in some places there are second hand vendors which provide warranties for second hand PCs). This is obviously not common practice but if you don’t need the very latest processing speed and software, e.g. because you are just using your PC for a bit of social media interaction, writing a few e-mails and some internet searches, this may well be a viable option.
  • Maintaining your PC for as long as possible, rather than buying a new one regularly, will also make a difference. And both of these choices save you money.
  • To minimise the environmental impact during the use phase, make sure you turn your PC off when you don’t use it, especially if you live in a place reliant on fossil fuels for electricity generation.
  • Finally, when it comes to disposing of your PC, look for e-waste recycling providers, if they are available in your country.

Report Rating: 2 out of 3

Report Published: October 2008

Country: China

Author(s): Huabo Duan, Martin Eugster, Roland Hischier, Martin Streicher-Porte, Jinhui Li

Publisher: ResearchGate

Funder: not known

Keywords: life cycle analysis, LCA, cradle to grave analysis, environmental footprint, Personal Computer, PC, desktop computer

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