In this day and age, it’s almost impossible to live without a laptop. Whether it be for work or leisure, our computers are an essential part of our day-to-day lives. But our laptops come with a hidden cost (beyond the excruciating prices we pay for them!).
Laptops are built with complex chemicals that give us the incredibly advanced technology we need to keep up with the modern world. However, these chemicals pose major risks to ourselves and our environments, and as personal computers become more and more common, these risks increase.
What’s In Our Laptops?
For most of us, the inner workings of a laptop are a mystery. The truth about our electronics, though, is that they’re built with a lot of chemicals and heavy metals. Common chemicals found in laptops include:
These chemicals are highly carcinogenic through exposure, and can lead to a number of severe health concerns that can be as serious as brain damage and organ failure. Luckily these chemicals don’t pose a direct risk to us while they’re in the laptops. Instead, the risk comes at the laptop’s disposal.
When our laptops are thrown away in landfills instead of properly recycled, the screens, boards, and metals that contain these hazardous chemicals are crushed and compacted, resulting in toxins leaking out—oftentimes into our soils and waters.
In landfills, hazardous chemicals can leach into our environment, resulting in not only ecological degradation, but major impacts on human health as well. Soil-based lead can be absorbed into plants, which then enters the food chains of both animals and humans. Ingesting or coming into physical contact with lead can lead to serious health effects, especially in children. These include:
● Inhibited mental development
● Memory loss
● Abdominal pain
Additionally, soil-based lead turns into lead dust, which can be inhaled, causing more severe effects. These effects extend to animals as well. Grazers that eat lead-affected plants are heavily affected by its toxicity, which not only harms or kills the animals, but can pass its effects up through the food chain, resulting in impacts on predators (and humans!) as well.
Mercury poses similar threats. Primarily a water-based toxin, mercury can wash from landfills to water bodies, where it’s consumed by aquatic plants, fish, and microorganisms. It travels up the food chain and accumulates in large fish, like salmon and tuna, and is then passed on to humans when we eat fish. A little bit of mercury in our diet isn’t life threatening, but it can build up over time, especially for populations that eat large amounts of fish. In the most extreme cases, high mercury exposure can be fatal. Other effects of mercury include:
● Damage to the immune system
● Damage to kidneys, livers, and lungs
● Neurological and behavioral disorders
● Developmental disabilities
The effects of mercury extend beyond those who eat fish. The toxic chemicals from our laptops seep into plants and waterways, making them largely unavoidable. The best solution to this problem is mitigating the chemical seepage from its source.
Responsibly Disposing of Laptops
Our laptops are essential. Like many aspects of sustainability, they’re not something that we can just stop using. Instead, we can make sure that we purchase computers with sustainability in mind and dispose of our old ones responsibly.
Perhaps more than ever before, technology is rapidly improving. Manufacturers can improve their systems management to ensure sustainability and health safety at every step of their supply chains, minimizing the usage of toxic chemicals in their products. As consumers, we can push our providers to make these efforts.
When shopping for a new laptop, look for models that are TCO certified. This IT-based certification helps products significantly reduce their environmental and social impacts through every stage of a product’s life, from manufacturing to disposal.
When it’s time to replace our laptops, it’s important that we do so responsibly. Instead of throwing them away to the landfill, send your electronics to recycling facilities where they can be properly disassembled and reused.
We can’t do away with the use of laptops, but by making efforts to purchase sustainable and safe products, and then disposing of our unwanted laptops after they’ve lived out their usefulness, we can push our technology to be safer and cleaner.
Blog post written by our guest writer Lena Milton.