A Microsoft serial-port mouse. A PCI modem card. An AMD Sempron Socket. A processor. An Asus K8N Socket. A motherboard. A PC133 SODIMM module. A 56k modem that I reviewed for PC Pro almost exactly a decade ago.
All of these things and a few dozen more are currently sitting in the hallway of my flat, in a crate notionally labelled, “to be disposed of responsibly”. This has turned out to be a thorny issue.
It all started at 5am on the Friday before last, in one of those hilarious comedy scenarios involving a pressing deadline and everything going wrong. The main event was the death of my 22in Iiyama CRT monitor, circa 2001. An ominous fizzling noise, followed by a couple of lethal-sounding bangs, and that was that.
So I hefted the thing off the desk and replaced it with a spare 17in TFT. But that clean patch where the big CRT used to be meant I had to dust and tidy the rest of the desk. And then the clutter-free desk meant I had to clean the floor around it to make it match. And then the clean zone around the desk meant I had to bite the bullet and spend a whole afternoon clearing out a decade’s worth of computing detritus.
I’m often accused of being a hoarder, but that isn’t strictly true – I just hate throwing things away when they still work. But given the chances of a seven-year-old CRT monitor being economically repaired – or repaired at all – are essentially zero, I set about getting rid of it. No mean feat in itself. Imagine hefting a baby elephant down three flights of stairs. It’s a useful analogy since baby elephants are very heavy, mostly curved and lacking easy-grip handles. They tend to wriggle out of your grip and make your back hurt. Ditto Iiyama Vision Master Pro 512 CRT monitors.
I placed the monitor in the special bulky-waste-disposal area of my flats and dutifully phoned the council to send a van. But then the guilt set in. Would it be recycled or would I be polluting the environment with my junked monitor?
Preliminary research on what electrical waste recycling actually entails didn’t yield very encouraging results. Current recycling technology means that only a few of the basic materials can be recycled – there’s no way of re-using the electronic components themselves. Worse, stories abound of electrical waste – replete with hazardous substances such as toxic heavy metals – being shipped to countries with lax or non-existent environmental and working-practice legislation, where recycling is economically viable but ethically opaque.
Even if it were possible to recycle electrical waste effectively, it isn’t necessarily very green. I recalled a conversation with a consultant involved in environmental business efficiency who confided that, in terms of carbon cost, recycling can be less energy-efficient than throwing things away. The reason we’re all encouraged to recycle, he said, is so that the process and infrastructure can evolve to a point somewhere in the future where it’s truly more efficient to recycle.
With the spectre of my dead monitor hitting a landfill still hanging on my conscience, the crate full of old kit, obsolete but nonetheless perfectly functional, sat accusingly in the hallway, making me step over it whenever I walked in the front door.
I tried to keep some bits and pieces that might still conceivably come in use, including unlikely things such as a 10BaseT network hub: it will still connect to my wired Ethernet network, so you never know. But there comes a point at which you have to admit you have no more need for a 56k modem, or a mouse that you can’t plug into anything because PCs don’t have serial ports any more.