Whether you love them or hate them, it matters not computers and information technologies are here to stay. Most of us do not give so much as a second thought to the manufacture, maintenance, decommissioning and eventual disposal of computer, networking and information technology systems and devices.

With in excess of 130,000 computers, being trashed every day the problems concerning the handling and management of the toxic materials contained in these devices becomes ever more urgent. On top of this, more than 2 million tons of electronic waste found its way into U.S. landfills last year.

Now take into consideration the estimated 975 million PCs and servers that will enter into active service over the next couple of years. With most of these new machines replacing older machines for one reason or another the picture becomes ever more compounded and the true enormity of the toxic computer waste issue takes on a new and very disturbing light. Add to this the fact that more than one billion new cell phones enter active service every year and even blind Freddy can see that something needs to be done now before the situation becomes totally out of control.

Dealing with Hazardous and Toxic Materials

When it comes to dealing with toxic and hazardous materials issues in the real world it always helps to know in advance, as much as possible about whatever may be confronting you as well as what to look out for and where to find it. The creation of hazard lists containing a complete register of the possible sources of hazardous and toxic materials is the first task in developing an environmentally friendly disposal plan.

Considering that all electronics will contain; lead and tin from solder and copper used to manufacture wires, cabling and as the traces on Printed Circuit Boards (PCB) including motherboards and adapter cards creating a thorough hazardous materials list is no easy task. Below is an alphabetical list of some well-known hazardous/toxic materials and dangers contained in computers, communications and networking equipment and other electronic devices.

Alphabetical Hazards List

Aluminum – Heat sinks and fans, electrolytic capacitors, cases and enclosures (external HDD)

Batteries – Cadmium, Nickel, Lithium, Lead, Mercury, Nickel Metal Hydride, Iron, Phosphor

Beryllium Oxide – Thermal paste

Cables and Wires – Copper – PVC insulation, do emit some EMR, which can be of concern when in the presence of sensitive equipment and strong electromagnetic fields. Shielded varieties will also contain various other metals used to provide the shielding

Cadmium – Batteries

Cathode-Ray Tube (CRT) – Lead – All CRT-based monitors contain lead. All CRT-based televisions also contain lead. Also, contain Copper and sometimes Gold. A typical CRT monitor can be over 6% lead by weight mainly contained in the glass

Copper – Wire, cabling, PCB traces and component leads, cooling fans

Electricity – Electrocution, fire, equipment damage

Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) – CRT monitors emit EMR, and by components within the system case as well as from cabling

Gold – Computer component connector plating (the golden fingers)

Indirect – Carbon Dioxide produced to generate the electricity used to power the PC, its components, peripherals and other devices

Iron – System case chassis, other cases, fittings, fixings

LCD Displays – Mercury – All LCD-based display systems contain mercury including LCD-based displays used as computer monitors, televisions and other LCD-based screens such as those to be found with digital cameras, Personal Digital Assistants (PDA), smart phones, cell phones, mobile devices etc may also have copper and gold components

Lithium – Batteries

Magnetic Tape – Environmentally unfriendly

Mercury – All LCD-based displays

Monitors – Monitors emit Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR)

Motherboards – There are a considerable number of toxic materials used in the manufacture of motherboards and many add-on adapter cards. Capacitors for example have a habit of leaking toxic chemicals.

Nickel – Batteries

Optical Disks –Plastics, polycarbonate substrates and metal containing phthalocyanine compounds

Power Supply Units (PSU) – Potentially dangerous electrical currents and voltages. PSU tend to be the most unreliable of all PC components

Printed Circuit Board (PCB) – Lead, Tin, Halogens, Plastics – The flame retardant, usually halogens, used in the manufacture of PCBs is toxic and makes it very difficult to recycle the material. Also, contain a considerable amount of lead-tin solders. A variety of environmentally “unfriendly” plastics are also used

Printers – Various metals, plastics and a large assortment of dyes and toners, which can create problems if released into waterways

Processors – Silicone, Aluminum, Copper, Gold and other trace elements

Semiconductors – Cadmium, Silicone, Gold, Copper, Aluminum

Silicone – Semiconductors, transistors, PCBs, integrated circuits

Silicone Paste – Silicone paste is a generic silicone compound applied to most Graphics Processing Units (GPU) and Northbridge chipsets. It is toxic.

Thermal Paste – Thermal paste is essential for ensuring adequate heat transfer from components with high thermal densities such as modern processors (Central Processing Unit or CPU), Graphics Processing Unit (GPU), RAM, chipsets etc.

The exact composition of thermal paste can vary from one manufacturer to another. Here are some of the more common components of thermal paste Micronized Silver, Boron Nitride, Aluminum Oxide and Aluminum Nitride all of which are rather toxic.

Tin – Tin is one of the ingredients in solders and as a coating on edge leads and contacts. The edge contacts, also called; “Golden Fingers” are the interfaces on adaptor cards and expansion slots.

Zinc – Plating