Pollution new technologies: computers, internet, hi-tech ...


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and syntéthique full article on the environmental impact of new technology (including communication). Part 1.

This article is based on World Records, Jun 2007.

The high-tech pollution, Le Monde, Dossier, 14 / 06 / 07

The development of digital society generates energetics consumption and a steady increase in products, materials and electronic waste .... The governors and industrialists are beginning to gauge the ecological cost of the new economy and act timidly. But, for now, are the emerging countries and their inhabitants who pay tribute, at the peril of their environment and their health.

The visible and invisible pollution

According to the latest projections by Forrester, one billion personal computers (PC) will be in use in the world of 2008 and over two billion by a 2015. But what does one of these screens mountains of CPUs, keyboards, printers and peripherals of all kinds when they are obsolete or broken?

20 50 from a million tons of e-waste piling up in the world and believes that volume of 3 has 5% per year, after a study of the United Nations 2005. In France, we produce at present average 25 kg of WEEE (waste from electrical and electronic equipment) per year per person. And these 25 kg, 8% - less than 2 kg - filiere pass into a collection and recycling possibly a quarter of them.

In Europe, it is, according to a report from the European Union, almost 36 16 tons of mercury and tons of cadmium that are discarded each year in the atmosphere, mainly due to the incineration of WEEE.

There Yet this is the only visible part of the iceberg. The increase in computer equipment also induces energetics cost, and therefore environmental, increasingly high. When the number of personal computers believes the amount necessary electricity to power increases mechanically.
Besides these devices, the Internet infrastructure itself drains a large amount of energy resources. Estimated at 123 2005 terawatt hours in the electrical consumption of all servers in the world is equivalent to the production of a dozen nuclear power plants.

Backed by cheap servers, but low quality and inefficient, Internet contributes energetics a bill of over 5 billion a year, said Jonathan Koomey, a University of Stanford. Between 2000 and 2005, world consumption of these servers has more than doubled. Such an increase is all the more problematic it does not include the number of servers of large companies such as Google, very discrete on the capacity of its infrastructure.

The emerging countries, dustbins of the West

The recycling of e-waste is complex and requires the handling of components harmful to health and the environment. It is little or not profitable and dangerous. It is therefore "natural" that developed countries send their waste to emerging countries, turning a blind eye to the methods used locally.
A large-scale pollution linked to this key industry in Asia and Africa. The Basel Action Network (BAN) identifies discharges, the filieres and more generally all the abuses in matters of electrical and electronic pollution. According to him, as an example, more than 500 containers of used computer equipment are unloaded every month in Nigeria to be repaired and reused. But nearly three-quarters of each cargo reveal unusable and are destroyed without precautions or worse, abandoned in large discharges. Toxics Alert estimated in a report that in 2004 70% of WEEE set discharge in New Delhi came from exports of industrial countries.

The methods employed in poor countries to reprocess these wastes are very rudimentary and the repercussions on the health of populations and the heavy environment. Water is the main vector of these pollutions. In China, a water sample taken in Lianjiang river, next to a recycling site, revealed the 2 400 times higher lead levels than the standards recommended by the WHO (World Health Organization).
The awareness of polluters States - the developed countries - has been slow but a legislative arsenal has emerged: the Convention of Bale, which prohibits the export of dangerous goods between the signatory countries, came into effect in 1992. In material recycling, the regulation came later. A so-called European WEEE (Waste of electrical and electronic equipment), passed in 2003, is applied at European level since August 2005. At the same time, another so-called European RoHS Directive (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) aimed at controlling the use of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment was adopted.
At present, the legislative system is operational in Europe and most developed countries follow suit. The filieres of recovery and recycling are set up and are everyone's business: manufacturers and distributors are henceforth bound to respect. But it is clear that a majority of the States concerned continue to send their e-waste to the emerging countries, sometimes in the form of donations to circumvent the law.



Disparate "green" initiatives

Having become concerned about environmental issues - or their image - computer companies are investing more and more in the reprocessing of hazardous materials. Questioned by the Greenpeace association, which regularly publishes a Guide for responsible high-tech, Apple has for example committed to becoming "greener", and to show more transparency in its recycling procedures.

Large industrial groups also trying to promote reduction measures of the energy consumption of computers. Reunited in the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, major players like Microsoft, AMD, Lenovo and IBM, and more recently Google and Intel, working in agreement with the defense agency of the World Wildlife Fund environmental (WWF) and other associations 25 .
Manufacturers of computers and components that participate in this initiative are committed to developing energy economes products that meet the technical requirements of the EPA, the American Federal Environment Agency. The other companies that adhere to this initiative will equip more economes computers. They are hoping save 5,5 billion in energy costs per year and reduce the gas emissions of greenhouse 54 million tonnes annually.
The Internet network infrastructure, made up of tens of millions of servers, is also tending towards a significant reduction in its electricity consumption. More and more manufacturers are offering virtual servers, which are gradually replacing the rows, cabinets and server racks very energy-hungry. Other companies try to democratize the so-called "low consumption" servers.
Will these disparate initiatives suffice? Does the proliferation of e-waste and the pollution generated by the new technology industries require the elaboration of a computer "Kyoto Protocol"?

Jim Puckett: "European legislation is the most advanced, but it has flaws"
What do you think of the directives on e-waste applied at European and international level?
The European legislation is more advanced in terms of management of electronic waste, but it presents several flaws that some are quick to exploit. If there is a principle that the manufacturer is obliged to recycle its products, nobody says how and where they should be. It is finally possible to empty embankments in France, to fill unloaded in Nigeria or China.
On the other hand, if the exporters declare that their load contains equipment intended to be reused, they are no longer regarded as "waste" but as "products", which escape the regulation of the transport of waste. This is a big lie: about 75% of the material we could identify in Nigeria is simply dumped and burned.
Which directives have the greatest impact on the "informal" discharges of emerging countries?
The three main measures in this area are important, but they must be properly implemented. The regulation of waste transport is the most important law, if it is correctly applied. Consumers and builders are encouraged to solve the problem upstream, and not to export their waste. In addition, the ROHS (Restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances) directive can also have a great impact, provided that the list of so-called "dangerous substances" is expanded. to prevent exemptions. Finally, if the Directive on WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment), which currently only affects consumers, is amended to solicit the responsibility of the producer, it will also become an important lever.
Have you noticed a decrease or increase in waste since the establishment of international guidelines?
Nothing has actually improves: it is mainly a lack of firmness in the application in Europe, and the absence of any legislation in the United States. A law on computer waste is more efficient in exporting countries in importing countries.
Are there any awareness of emerging countries on sanitary and environmental conditions such reprocessors?
The emerging countries can not do much. China tries to reduce the flow of waste and to improve the conditions of reprocessing, but the informal walking dirty recycling grows, because of global trade which is very difficult to controler. For China, this is not a technical issue: quality recycling companies can not compete with the informal work. The only way to stop this cycle is to promote the Convention of Bale, and diligent application.

The lowlands of the Web

Converse by instant messaging, play games online or just surf the Internet are henceforth common activities for users of the Web. The flow rates are always more students and more exchanges of files on the information superhighway, while they give the illusion of dematerialisation.
Yet on the other side of the screens of Internet users, heavy infrastructure behind the Internet. Byte, the units of information, does have an equivalent energetics, more students. Estimated at 123 terawatt hours per year, the global electric consumption of servers represents 0,8% of the total electrical consumption (16 000 terawatt hours per year), the equivalent of fifteen nuclear power plants.
The US alone absorb a third of this consumption (45 terawatt hours per year). Jonathan Koomey, a University of Stanford, has calculated that such a bill is high energetics has 5,3 billion euro per year (7,2 billion).
According to the study published in February 2007, consumption of servers doubles in five years. In the year 2000, global servers used less than 60 terawatt hours per year. The report of Mr. Koomey is particularly alarming that does not include servers used by Google. The American company, very dark on its infrastructure, has never disseminates data on its storage capacities. According to a June 2006 published in the New York Times, Google would have more 450 000 servers distributed in over twenty technical centers.
The high demand is the main cause of such increment energetics. Developed countries, members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), plébiscitent increasingly on broadband. With over 58 million subscribers, the United States represent the largest march in absolute terms, followed by Japan and South Korea. But it is in the countries of northern Europe that the equipment rate is higher. Denmark, the Netherlands and Iceland, nearly one person in three has the high throughput, against one in five in France.
12,7 million French subscribers are well connected by broadband, contained in the European countries trio head of the most connected, behind the UK and Germany. The emerging countries in matters such as Digital China, the Internet penetration rate is very low (10,4%, against almost 70% in North America) will also permanently increase demand.
In order to meet the expectations of their customers, manufacturers like HP or Dell offer low-cost, but inefficient servers. 90% of the IT infrastructure is composed of "volume servers", the cheapest in the market. Masses in rooms, inefficient, they are only employed at 10% of their capacities. They also require large cooling systems, which contribute half of their electricity consumption. According to Mr Koomey, their number has exploded in five years: in 2000, the world counted 12 millions of "volume servers", against 26 millions in 2005.
The next few years could see emerging trends. In March 2007, the IDC Institute reduced the forecast of server sales between 2005 and 2010 from 4,5 million units. Such a decline is partly in favor of so-called "virtual" servers, many of which can be hosted by a single physical server. In 2010, 1,7 million servers will be sold for virtualization, equivalent to the capacity of 8 millions of "real" servers. This will represent 14,6% of the capacity volume of the servers, compared to only 4,5% in 2005.
The major manufacturers are also lances in a strategy of reduction of consumption. While Sun setting on more powerful processors, its competitor, Hewlett Packard, Team some server power saving features, and more efficient fans.

Richard Brown: "More and more ecoresponsible products will arrive on the market"
Since April, VIA, Taiwanese manufacturer of integrated circuits, and Hewlett Packard marketing a low-power computer, destined for the Chinese market. Why launch such a project?
China is experiencing increased pollution and the generated carbon dioxide emission by rapid growth of industrial and commercial activities. This happens when the world starts to become more aware of problems related to the environment and global warming, and takes positive steps to save energy and reduce the carbon footprint of human activities.

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