Computer manufacturing soaks up fossil fuels, UN University study says

8 March 2004 – The manufacture of an average desktop computer and monitor uses more than 10 times its weight in fossil fuels and chemicals, according to a United Nations University (UNU) study which has called for worldwide action to halt "the growth of high-tech trash."

The study, released yesterday, shows that the construction of an average 24-kilogram computer and 27-centimetre monitor requires at least 240 kilograms of fossil fuel, 22 kilograms of chemicals and 1,500 kilograms of water – or 1.8 tons in total, the equivalent of a rhinoceros or sports utility vehicle.

The report - which examined the environmental impact of the information technology revolution - said computer manufacturing is much more materials-intensive than making a car or refrigerator, which need only one or two times their weight in fossil fuels.

More than 130 million computers are being sold each year now, and "today it is hard to imagine life without one of these indispensable 21st century tools," one of the co-editors of the UNU study, Eric Williams, said. "But it is exactly because they have become so ubiquitous that we must be aware of the negative impacts of the PC boom."

Mr. Williams and his co-editor, Ruediger Kuehr, have called for government incentives to extend the life of personal computers and the desire or need to rapidly discard them for newer models.

They also identified several other potential environmental consequences of the PC boom, such as exposure to hazardous materials during the computer manufacturing process or when used computers have been dumped in landfills.

Listen to UN Radio report

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