Nov 122008
Authors: Glen Pfeiffer, Ryan Gibbons

Technology may be a great part of our lives as human beings, but it is definitely detrimental to the environment in production methods as well as the waste left over when, for example, a computer’s life meets its sad, sad end.

So, believe it or not, the components that make up what you might think of as the guts of the computer are not biodegradable. You can’t use them as alternative fuels, compost them in your garden or toss them in CSU’s recycling bins.

So what specifically makes today’s tech so bad for the environment? Well there are four main polluters that can be found in modern electronics.

The first is lead. Lead is found in many TVs, computer Cathode Ray Tubes (the old, not flat-panel, generally uncool computer screens) and in most chip sets. Lead is used mainly for interconnecting electric circuits. Its low melting temperature and high conductivity make it great for soldering components together.

The second is mercury, which is used in the bulbs that help illuminate flat-panel computer monitors and notebooks.

The third element is brominated flame retardants. These chemicals help (yes, you guessed it) prevent your electronics from igniting (its a good thing, we’ve seen them come close).

These have probably been the hardest of the four to phase out, simply because without them your electronics could do a literal impression of an awesome “Die Hard” explosion. Finding a practical alternative has proven to be quite difficult.

Lastly is cadmium, an element used in older batteries, but has luckily been mostly phased out by lithium. While these four are the largest contributors to e-waste, keep in mind there are many more that exist.

So now you’re driving a 68 mile-per-gallon car, you recycle all your Arizona Green Tea bottles and you voted for Obama to keep the oil beasties out of the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. But you still need your electronics, so what should you buy?

The best thing to look for when searching for environmentally friendly electronics would be an Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool rating.

To receive a bronze EPEAT medal, a manufacturer must meet the 23 required criteria; in order to receive a silver or gold they must also meet 50 percent or 75 percent respectively of the 28 optional criteria. For the criteria, and even a list of computers that have received an EPEAT medal, visit

These days, electronics manufacturers have been doing a lot to assist in the Green movement. Companies like Apple, HP, Toshiba and Dell offer free recycling for your old computer when you buy one and they have also been making a push to drop many of the above chemicals as if they were hot.

For those of you who are looking to get rid of other old equipment, we would first suggest seeing if you can donate it.

Many organizations are looking for old cell phones to give to U.S. soldiers and other worthy causes. Just Google “cell phone donation” or “computer donation” and pick your poison.

We would suggest, however, that you go through whatever it is that you’re donating and make sure to clear out all personal information first.

If you can’t or aren’t looking to donate your used electronics then at least be sure to recycle properly.

While recycling companies must charge for electronics, it’s usually a reasonable price. Visit for a list of local recycling centers (recycling drives where you can drop them off for free also happen every once in awhile).

Columnists Glen Pfeiffer and Ryan Gibbons can be reached at

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