Girl Planting seeds

Healthier, Greener Computers

 By Julie Kanfer 

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2007 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, 36.4 percent of consumers want to receive electronics or computer-related accessories as gifts this holiday season.(1) As each recipient tears the wrapping paper off their brand new Mac laptop or Dell keyboard, they’re likely not thinking five or six years down the line when their now brand new personal computer will become a relic. Yet raising awareness about the necessity of recycling electronic devices like computers, cell phones or I-Pods is just as important as the research that goes into buying these items in the first place.

From the top electronics corporations to the local independent electronics recycling organizations, everyone should be calling attention to the potential dangers of not recycling these appliances. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, many old electronics are ultimately shipped to Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa where they create massive amounts of e-waste, contaminate water supplies, and ultimately endanger people living in these regions.(2)

Many computer manufacturers offer “take-back” programs, where owners bring their old electronics back to a retail location to either be recycled or redistributed at no cost. Additionally, most major cities, sprawling suburbs, and even small towns hold electronics recycling events, which promote a healthy, more responsible alternative to chucking an old desktop into a dumpster. The Electronic Industries Alliance’s website ( also provides concerned consumers with locations of electronics recycling centers in communities throughout the country.

Yet if the computers being recycled are still full of toxins such as brominated fire retardants and heavy metals, it defeats the point of recycling them in the first place. To that end, many major computer companies have recently stepped up. Following nearly eight months of pressure from Greenpeace International, this past May Apple CEO Steve Jobs finally declared a phase out of the worst chemicals in its product range, Brominated Fire Retardants (BFRs) and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), by 2008. (3)

Plant a Tree for Me

Dell, one of Apple’s fiercest competitors, had already agreed to eliminate these materials from their products by 2009. In addition, Dell has partnered with The Conservation Fund and to create the “Plant A Tree For Me” program, which, according to its website, “makes it easy and affordable for individuals, corporations or even entire communities to “go zero” by measuring and then offsetting their carbon emissions associated with the electricity generated to power an extended portfolio of IT products – simply by planting trees.” (4)

Shoppers looking for a detailed assessment of almost all electronic companies should visit, the Electronic Performance Environmental Assessment Tool, which rates desktop computers, laptops and other electronic equipment using a three-tier system. Gold, silver and bronze categories help individual consumers and large for-profit and non-profit companies make informed decisions about the environmental impact of technology.

A lesser-known alternative is to build an environmentally-responsible computer from scratch. Thomas Schramm, president of, imports computer components from Europe, where he says they are made “cleaner” and regulations for “e-waste” are stricter, as opposed to the parts used in most computer sold in the U.S., which are manufactured in Asia. For the last five years Schramm has been building computers that provide for a healthier, less toxic environment, and hopes that his small corner of the market will eventually catch on. “I hope that what we are doing will be mainstream at some point and that completely everything—all electronics, TVs, computers—will be done in this way,” he said.(6) For now, there are still many ways to vote with your wallet by supporting healthier and greener electronics, and the recycling efforts of communities and companies around the country.

Julie Kanfer is the New York Supervisor for the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer and manages all of the charity’s contributions. She is also the Associate Producer for the "Imus in the Morning" program. Julie lives in Greenwich Village and is working toward her Master's degree in Journalism at Columbia University. She frequently argues with people about the importance of conservation, is nauseated by the sight of SUVs, and recycles avidly.


National Retail Federation: 2007 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey 16 November 2007.

United Nations Environment Programme/E-Waste: The Hidden Side of IT Equipment’s Manufacturing and Use 16 November 2007.

Green My Apple. 16 November 2007.

Dell/Plant a Tree for Me. 16 November 2007.

Schramm, Thomas. Green Machine Shop. Telephone interview: 15 March 2007.






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