There are two major issues when it comes to computer monitor recycling. The first is the fact that according to recent statistics, a sizable minority of U.S. consumers fail to properly dispose of the items, bypassing sanctioned e-waste centers in favor of the regular trash. Over the course of a year, one study found close to 20% of consumers disposing of a desktop computer or monitor were found to be guilty of this environmentally dangerous behavior, while the percentage was slightly lower for people getting rid of laptops at 14%.
The second and arguably more worrisome trend is that even when consumers make an effort to avail themselves of a licensed facility in their local municipality, the end result is sometimes no better. A group of journalism students from the University of British Columbia made awards history on September 27, 2010 by winning a U.S. Documentary Emmy Award for 2009 effort Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground. The documentary, which aired on the PBS program Frontline, showed how computer monitors and towers sent to e-waste brokers in the western world wound up being dangerously and inefficiently dealt with in places like Ghana, India, and China.
Part of the motivation for First World e-waste centers to send computer monitors to Third World countries for disposal is similar to the one that leads to infamous clothing sweatshops. The labor supply is cheaper and therefore the e-waste merchants clear a larger profit when selling the old computer monitors and other peripherals to partners in these countries.
Computer Recycling Statistics
According to estimates compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a total of 31.9 million computer monitors were disposed of in the United States in 2007. More broadly speaking, when televisions and other electronics are included, only 13.6% of the more than 3 billion tons of e-waste disposed of in the U.S. in 2008 was recycled. Adding to the complications of this growing e-waste situation is the fact that the manufacture of one computer and monitor requires an average of 530 pounds of fossil fuels, 48 pounds of chemicals and 1.5 tons of water.
GreenerChoices.org – E-Waste Statistics, Retrieved September 28, 2010 from http://www.greenerchoices.org/electronicsrecycling/el_ewaste.cfm
CTV News – “UBC Students Nab Emmy for Documentary”, September 27, 2010, Retrieved September 28, 2010 from http://www.ctvbc.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20100926/bc_emmy_hopes_100926/20100927?hub=BritishColumbiaHome
Electronics Take Back Coalition – Facts and Figures on E-Waste and Recycling, Retrieved September 28, 2010 from http://www.computertakeback.com/Tools/Facts_and_Figures.pdf