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PC disposal: recycle or build for durability?

Noxious rules for noxious waste

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Substantial recent coverage of yet two further EU Directives, this time on disposal of computer waste, draws attention to the amount of noxious materials, metals and plastics, which constitute the inner workings of PCs. The directives come into operation in 2005, writes Bob McDowall of Bloor Research

Briefly, one of the directives, the so-called Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment Directive (affectionately known as WEEE) places the burden for disposal or recycling PCs sold before the implementation deadline of mid 2005 on the manufacturer.

After that date the responsibility for disposal will rest with the purchaser and manufacturer. This will entail manufacturers maintaining a central register of all equipment sold. They will seemingly pay for disposal based on market share. Disposal of this hazardous waste will probably be conducted by public and private waste disposal organisations. They will collect and dispose on behalf of the manufacturers.

The second directive, Restriction of Hazardous Substance Directive (RoHS), prohibits new electrical and electronic equipment containing more than a maximum level of specified chemicals. This comes into effect in 2006.

Clearly compliance with these directives will increase the costs of PCs and other technology hardware whose constituent parts are covered by the directives. There is now an understandable interest in environmental interests by manufacturers.

Professional commentators predict upsurge in purchase of equipment before the directive deadlines; the consequence of extending the life cycle of PCs; more effective cannibalising of parts. Logistics focused on registration, management and disposal of equipment will become a growth business.

How likely is it that PC manufactures will seek to actively encourage extension of the lifecycles of PCs? Making upgrading easier and cost effective, less frequent introduction of new models, introduction of less noxious plastic coatings and casing to the machines would be a practical step.

Creating better central markets in the constituent replacement parts and parts for upgrade and encouraging distribution channels to do the same through economic incentives would be effective longer term steps to discourage disposal and recycling.

Research plays a part in finding more ideal solutions. Effective compression technology will reduce the volume of the problem as well as helping to extend life cycles of PCs. Commercial introduction of synthetic non-toxic substitutes for hazardous chemical and metal constituents of the working parts would provide the ideal solution to render the Directives unnecessary.

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