This article was published on June 24, 2008

E-waste: one computer for every six human beings

E-waste: one computer for every six human beings
Ernst-Jan Pfauth
Story by

Ernst-Jan Pfauth

Ernst-Jan Pfauth is the former Editor in Chief of Internet at NRC Handelsblad, as well as an acclaimed technology author and columnist. He a Ernst-Jan Pfauth is the former Editor in Chief of Internet at NRC Handelsblad, as well as an acclaimed technology author and columnist. He also served as The Next Web’s blog’s first blogger and Editor in Chief, back in 2008. At De Correspondent, Ernst-Jan serves as publisher, fostering the expansion of the platform.

Research by Gartner shows that the number of computers in use around our globe has surpassed the legendary mark of 1 billion. So yes, that means in a world where 2.7 billion people live on less than $2 a day, there’s a computer for every six persons. Moreover, thanks to growth in emerging markets, the number of pc’s will probably have been doubled in 2014. As a result from these growing markets, more mature markets will then only count for about 30 percent of the next billion computers. Now that percentage is 58 percent.

When I read these first lines of the Reuters report, I immediately thought of e-waste. When I worked for a press agency in the United Nations headquarters last year, I covered this important issue. With the ever growing amount of mobile phones, iPods (see the Greenpeace manifest), flat screens, and … computers, the world slowly becomes one big dump place for electronic waste. As Gartner analyst Meike Escherich said: “We estimate … some 35 million PCs will be dumped into landfill with little or no regard for their toxic content.” Last year, Jeremy Gregory, a postdoctoral associate in the Materials Systems Laboratory and the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told me that “every year, the world generates 40 million metric tonnes of electronic scrap”.

What struck me the most when I wrote a piece on this matter, is that the problem isn’t just a threat to nature, but also to our wallets. Normally, when it comes to money, companies are quite eager to collect some. But the reality is that companies throw away large amounts of valuable materials, like indium. The price of this metal – that’s used in more than one billion products per year – has risen six-fold.

Only a small amount of e-scrap is recycled. Last year, the European Union, one of the few regions with accurate statistics, generated 8.5 million metric tonnes of electronic waste, but recycling companies only handled 0.5 million tonnes.

The subject of my article was a new global public-private initiative called Solving the E-Waste Problem (StEP). Amongst the 48 members are major high-tech manufactures, including Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Dell, Ericsson and Philips, as well as U.N., governmental, NGO and academic institutions, and recycling companies. So I’d like to use the 1 billion celebration as an excuse to focus some attention on this upcoming threat to our planet.. and wallets.

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