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Special Report: Are Computers Destroying The Earth?

With Earth Day just around the corner, two reporters cross swords over the question of whether computers and technology are helping or hurting the environment. See what they have to say, then vote on who's got it right.

Be Part Of The Solution
By Jennifer Bosavage and Jennifer Maselli

Here's how you can help yourself to a computer while keeping yourself in Mother Nature's good graces:

  • Look for computer models labeled with the Energy Star symbol.

  • Hang onto your computer just a little bit longer. Typically, in the workplace, PCs and notebooks have a lifespan of about three years. Try to tack an extra six to 12 months onto that. See if an upgrade will work -- add more memory, a second hard drive, or a better graphics card. And when you do buy a new computer, get one with enough muscle to withstand a few software upgrades.

  • Donate your equipment to charity. Call the local church, synagogue, or after-school program for PC donations, or a women's shelter for cell phone donations. This is a particularly attractive option for those who really want or need frequent upgrades: The charity gets relatively new equipment and the donor isn't polluting the environment.

    Plus, there can be tax benefits to donating equipment. For example, the Computer Recycling Center will reimburse shipping fees for sending it a Mac PowerBook G3 or iBook, or a PC with a Pentium 2, 3, 4 or Celeron chip; plus it will send you a charitable donation receipt.

  • Find a local facility that can lawfully dispose of your electronic equipment. (That includes no landfilling and no sending components to third-world countries.) An excellent Web site for locating reputable recyclers is Earth 911. By typing in your ZIP code, you'll be directed to the nearest credible recycling service. Of course, you'll want to do a little homework and ask a few questions to ensure your PC is not just going into a dumpster somewhere. Fees also vary among providers.

  • Check your town for e-waste removal services it might offer; some municipalities offer electronics collection as part of household hazardous waste collections, or hold special e-waste collection events.

    Important: Whether you donate, recycle, or otherwise dispose of your computer, be sure to safely remove personal data from your equipment first. See Data Disposal: A Crushing Problem? for tips.

  • Check into computer manufacturers' recycling efforts. Dell and HP have comprehensive programs that cost the computer user little or no money.

    Also, see if the manufacturer has signed the Electronics Recycler's Pledge of True Stewardship. Some of the companies that have signed the pledge are investing in technology to reduce harmful waste in the manufacturing process; for example, Sony has invested in bio-based plastics, which replace materials reliant on toxic chemicals that pose avoidable risks to human health and the environment. See Greenpeace International's How The Companies Line Up page for information about electronics companies' commitment to removing hazardous substances from their products.

  • Ask your employer about telecommuting to work once or twice a week; it'll save on gas, and lower carbon monoxide and smog levels.

  • Shop online. Think of all the things you can buy online these days: groceries, books, music, clothes, furniture, even movie rentals. Sure, delivery people still have to burn gas to bring, say, groceries to your house, but one delivery truck bringing food to a dozen homes in the same neighborhood is more energy-efficient than a dozen people driving to the supermarket separately.

    To share your own tips or weigh in on the debate, please submit a comment to the blog Is Your PC EC?

    Special Report: Are Computers Destroying The Earth?

    •  Introduction

    •  Computers Don't Pollute -- People Do

    •  Don't Kid Yourself -- E-Waste Is Evil

    •  How You Can Make A Difference

    •  Vote: Are Computers Good Or Bad For The Environment?

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