can I have ready access to a computer without owning a piece of
soon-to-be-obsolete toxic waste? Is leasing an option? Do any
manufacturers take back old computers for reprocessing?
I too have been thinking about buying a personal computer (PC) since 1989 but so far, I've gotten by with a manual typewriter and the use of friends' and employers' computers. During my term at YES!, however, I came to rely on the computer for monitoring mainstream and alternative news, doing research, and communicating with almost everyone but Wendell Berry. Now I am reconsidering PC ownership.
Environmentally, PCs still rate poorly despite ongoing improvements. Computer manufacturing
releases dioxin (a carcinogen and hormone disruptor), halogens and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)––ozone depleting and global warming gases— lead, mercury, and other pollutants. Some manufacturers are producing equipment without some of these toxins, with recycled-content glass and plastics, or with easily removable parts to facilitate recycling. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (www.svtc.org) prepares an annual environmental report card for computer manufacturers, and the Northwest Product Stewardship Council offers a Guide to Environmentally Preferable Computer Purchasing (www.productstewardship.net, follow links to EPP Guide). If you do not need state-of-the-art gear, obtaining a used or rebuilt PC may be the easiest “green” strategy, especially if you can choose an energy-efficient model.
According to a study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, computers and Internet equipment use
2 percent of US electricity. Replacing old machines with “Energy Star” rated ones will save electricity, and turning computers off when not in use will save 75 percent of computer energy bills, according to the US Department of Energy. Flat screens are more energy efficient than CRTs (cathode ray tube—the TV-style monitors), and laptops use only a tenth the energy of desktop models.
Finally, computer disposal remains a serious problem, particularly because a new machine has only a two-year life expectancy. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 20 million computers were taken out of service in 1998 alone. Of these, 12 percent were recycled, an estimated 75 percent are stored in closets, garages, etc., and the rest were trashed. Electronics in landfills leach toxins into groundwater; incinerated ones pollute the air.
In October 2001, the European Union passed the Waste Electrical and Electronics Directive that requires manufacturers to take responsibility for their products at the end of use. Hence, in Europe, old PCs can be returned to their makers. In the US, while some manufacturers have take-back agreements with their corporate clients, individual consumers bear the burden of seeking out responsible means of disposal.
A National Directory of Computer Recycling Programs is available at http://www.nrc-recycle.org/. Visit specific manufacturers' websites for their take-back policies—HP and IBM now accept old equipment for a $25–$30 recycling fee.
Meanwhile, although it has taken several visits, I've been able to do all the research, typing, and e-mailing for this piece at the public library. True, users are limited to one hour of computer time per day, but this may be as much as you want.
–Pamela O'Malley Chang,
Editorial Fellow Emerita
Drain cleaners often contain corrosive toxic chemicals such as sodium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid, and petroleum distillates. First of all, our old friend the toilet plunger is a good long-term de-clogger. If the plunger doesn't work, pour 1/2 cup baking soda, then 1/2 cup white vinegar or lemon juice down the troubled drain. Wait for the fizzy chemical reaction and flush with boiling water after 15 minutes.
Aside from the cost-effective baking soda and vinegar recipe, there are a number of natural drain cleaner products on the market. These contain enzymes that dissolve clogging agents such as grease, oil, and soap residue.
If these strategies prove ineffective, you may want to try cleaning out the trap underneath the sink. Inquire about this at your local hardware store, or check out any hardware how-to website (http://www.doityourself.com/plumbing/index.shtml). One of the easier home plumbing projects, this is less expensive than calling a plumber.
prevention is also important. Make sure that all of your drains have a
“hair snare” or strainer on the drain hole and that it is cleaned out
regularly. Pour boiling water down the drain once a week, and be sure
not to pour coffee grounds, grease, oil, or paint down the drain.
–Erik Neumann and Beth Balderston
Usually, people can agreeably share a large outdoor area with bees and hornets. Thousands of amateur and professional beekeepers maintain hives on their properties for pleasure, education, or profit. But when these insects settle in high human- and pet-traffic areas, particularly as uninvited house guests, problems arise.
You're right in not wanting to use gas or poison, not only because of their harmful effects on the environment and your property, but also because they usually don't destroy insects immediately. When exposed to gases or other artificial chemicals, stinging insects become aggressive.
Colonies of bees and hornets can number up to 80,000 members so removing a nest yourself is not advised. Instead, contact your county extension agent for a referral to a local beekeeper. There's usually a nominal charge involved, but it's well worth your safety.
If the bees on your property are honeybees, you are not allowed to destroy them. Honeybees are protected by federal law because of their value to the ecosystem and agriculture. A mite problem that has wiped out 80 percent of honeybees nationwide since the mid ‘80s has also garnered extra protection for the bees. Many beekeepers will agree to collect and relocate the insects if you simply ask. Hornets and other stinging insects aren't as economically valued and beekeepers will usually opt for poison to rid them from property.
If the bees or hornets are in the walls of a house, it's important to call an expert immediately. Established honeybee nests, for example, can contain over a hundred pounds of honey, pollen, and beeswax. You may have to call a carpenter and a beekeeper so that both the hive and bees are removed. Without bees to fan and cool the nest, honey may seep out, causing damage to walls and ceilings. The fermenting nest could also attract such unwanted pests as rodents, moths, and other insects. After the bees and hive have been removed, make certain to cover any possible entryway to avoid admitting other colonies.
Non-chemical traps can also be made or purchased to attract hornets and bees and can be effective when used correctly and in the right areas. These inexpensive traps can be purchased at most major lawn and garden stores. In addition, the EPA has an online manual for pest control in schools that includes instructions for making a homemade trap, using food to lure the insects. It's available at: .
may also allow nature to take its course (if the insects do not present
an immediate threat), removing the nest when it slows down for the
winter. Worker bees and hornets are killed by frost, and fertilized
females (future queens) hibernate in sheltered places until they begin
new nests in the spring.
–Connie Kim and Beth Balderston