Disposal / E-Waste
Computer Junk is Growing
There is a growing and imminent waste crisis about to hit the USA – computer junk.
"I have discovered that they are excellent at collecting dust and holding up bags of rice, but other than that, I am at a loss to know where to unload this stuff."
"USA sitting on mountain of obsolete PCs", USA Today, June 22, 1999.
Computer junk is growing at an escalating rate in the USA and Canada and consumers do not know what to do with it. It has been estimated that over three-quarters of all computers ever bought in the USA are currently stored in people’s attics, basements, office closets and pantries. (1) If everyone disposed of these the US would face a huge waste problem all at once.
A recent US study found that over 315 million computers will become obsolete by the year 2004 – and this is an underestimate. Reliable numbers were not available for the number of computers manufactured between 1980 and 1992.(2)
Americans are buying more computers than people in any other nation. Currently over 50% of US households own a computer.(3)
Computer junking is also happening at a faster rate. The lifespan of computers is decreasing. In 1997 the average lifespan of a computer tower was 4-6 years and computer monitors 6-7 years.(4) This will soon fall to 2 years before 2005.
By the year 2005, one computer will become obsolete for every new one put on the market.(5)
By the end of this year (1999), another 24 million computers in the United States will become "obsolete". Only about 14 % (or 3.3 million) of these will be recycled or donated. The rest - more than 20 million computers in the U.S. -- will be dumped, incinerated, shipped as waste exports or put into temporary storage in attics, basements, etc.(6)
For the three years between 1997 and 1999, it is estimated that some 50 million U.S. computer towers will have been dumped, burned, shipped abroad or stored to await eventual disposal.
Recycling of computer monitors is no better. Over 300 million computer monitors have been sold in the USA since 1980. Yet, in 1997 only about 1.7 million monitors in the US were "recycled," the majority of which - about 1 million monitors - were shipped abroad to countries such as China.
In 1998 only 6 percent of older computers were recycled compared to the numbers of new computers put on the market that year. In contrast, for major appliances such as washing machines, air conditioners, refrigerators, dryers, dishwashers and freezers, the proportion recycled in 1998 was about 70 percent of the number put on the market that year.(7)
Of the small amount recycled, more than three-quarters come from large-scale users of the equipment. Individual users and small businesses contribute only a small fraction of the equipment that is recycled because no collection, or recycling program is in place.(8)