Recent media attention to the new iPad from Apple reminded me of a friend who retired from the Environmental Protection Agency who once said to me: "The earth's life support systems will probably survive the automobile but probably not personal computers and all the other electronic equipment that proliferates now." She based her opinion on a United Nations University study released in 2006 which revealed a new understanding of the impact these necessary tools of the 21st century have on our environment.
According to this report, making the average personal computer requires 10 times the weight of the product in chemicals and fossil fuels. What's more, many of the chemicals used are toxic, while the use of fossil fuels in making computer and electronic components contributes to global climate change. The short life of today's electronic equipment leads to Himalayas of waste, the report says. That waste is then dumped into landfills or recycled, too often in poorly managed facilities in developing countries, leading to significant health risks.