How Green is a Green Computer?

gms.JPGConsumers around the globe are demanding greener computers, and a number of companies are rushing to supply them. While the the EU has established regulations for less toxic, more efficient, and ultimately recyclable machines, and the US has a voluntary standard, computer maker Thomas Schramm (a frequent commenter here) claims that these frameworks, and the home computers that meet them, don't go nearly far enough in reducing hazardous chemicals. Schramm's company, GreenMachineShop.com of Ann Arbor, Michigan, issued a press release claiming that "green computers" are largely a myth, and that "The components are usually not manufactured with the environment in mind":

Electronics, including computer electronics, contain considerable amounts of brominated flame retardants (BFRs), up to 1 ounce per computer motherboard. The used BFR, with the name TBBPA (Tetrabromobisphenol-A), is immunotoxic, hepatotoxic, neurotoxic, an endocrine disruptor, and can block the thyroid hormone receptor (see http://www.ehponline.org/members/2003/6559/6559.html#tetr and http://www.cleanproduction.org/library/bfr_report_pages1-43.pdf, page 19). Bisphenol-A, which can mimic estrogen, has recently been linked to prostate cancer and received national press this summer.

The typical PC component manufacturing process uses and releases toxins, carcinogens, paint and oil-based substances into the environment and residue of them remain in the computer while sitting next to you and gas-out, evaporating over time in the computer users office or home.

People with multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome (MCS) go to great lengths to shield themselves from those toxins. Some get physically ill within 15 minutes of sitting next to regular computer and they are not able to continue their work routine. Some MCS sufferers put computers in another room or build special enclosure of aluminum and glass just to stay away from these harmful substances.

What can those chemicals do to "normal" people?

Green Machine Shop offers its own product, of course, as an alternative, and claims they "exceed EPEAT and ROHS requirements, come with a take-back program, including the replacement computer, and with a power consumption up to 10% below the industry average." We won't defend or deny Schramm's claims about his company's computers, but rather want to offer these criteria as grist for discussion. What standards should we set to insure that consumers are protected from health hazards, and that old machines aren't clogging landfills? What must designers do to create the "perfect green computer?" ::GreenMachineShop.com

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