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Create environment friendly recycling systems

By Vision Reporter

Added 22nd June 2009 03:00 AM

You do not prevent pollution by banning used computers. Even the new computers today will soon be “used.”

You do not prevent pollution by banning used computers. Even the new computers today will soon be “used.”

By Alex Lubulwa

You do not prevent pollution by banning used computers. Even the new computers today will soon be “used.”

What will you then do?

What you need to do is create environment friendly, electronic waste disposal systems.

A basic computer consists of a central processing unit (CPU), monitor, keyboard, mouse and power cables, where, the main component is the CPU.

If you open up a Pentium 4 CPU— the most popular computer model — you cannot find a single part that is not found in a new computer. The two are completely similar with regard to the building “blocks”.

Why do you then ban a used CPU?

When it comes to monitors, about 40% of those on the market are flat screens. These are light, smart, consume little power, friendly to the environment and are technically the same as those which come with new computers.

The part that can be harmful to the environment is the CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) monitor — old fashioned monitor, similar to the TV sets which most people have in their homes. These ones contain heavy metals, namely barium, lead and mercury. Heavy metals are toxic. In case the monitor breaks, these metals can sieve into ground water which is dangerous.

Therefore, if the Government has to ban something, let them ban the CRT monitor and not the entire computer system.

In addition, the Government should establish electronic waste disposal systems to cater for the entire range of electronic waste, that is TVs, printed circuits, radios and used batteries. Concerning used batteries, the bulk of these is lead.

And people do not know where or how to dispose of them. I bet the majority of people are not aware of how dangerous these batteries are. When thrown to the ground, they end up polluting ground water because of lack of awareness and e-waste disposal systems.

The livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector — should we, therefore, exterminate all the cattle, goats and pigs? The Government should devise a mechanism of ensuring that only used computers in good condition are imported rather than ban them.

The manufacture of personal computers started in the early 1980s in the US and Europe. To date, there is not a single European country that has banned trade in used computers. Why do we, in Uganda, find it so urgent to ban the use of old computers, when we still import vehicles over 18 years old? We who can least afford the purchase of new computers and do not have any manufacturing capacity to speak of.

With sh350,000, you can buy a branded used Pentium 4 computer, with licensed Windows XP Software. The same computer would be a great asset for a secondary school. With sh2m, a school would be able to bargain for six computers.

On the other hand, sh2m can only buy one new branded computer, loaded with licensed Windows XP and office software. In three months time, therefore, conforming to the budget proposal, a head teacher would need sh12m if they are to purchase the six new computers. This will also apply to a young local investor planning to set up an Internet Cafe. The same fate will befall an organisation which requires computers. The information technology industry in Uganda has a poor regulation record. Here you can find a Sony which turns out to be a Benq after stripping it bare; computers bearing labels of manufacturers that had never manufactured them.

Computer models that are not recognised, by the manufacturers’ website; and “new” computers having dust in the power supply fans and casings shining like they have just been sprayed in Katwe. And these are the new computers we are told to buy.

With used computers, customers know what they get. And the market has demonstrated an impressive degree of self-regulation, in that 70% of all the computers on sale today are Pentium 4s.

Very soon the Pentium 3 will be no more, because of lack of demand. There is practically no Pentium 2 anymore on the Ugandan Market. When it comes to accessories, the same rule applies. For example, a good used power cable can work with a whole range of electrical equipment, including electric kettles. Connect a new power cable from downtown Kampala to an electric kettle and it will blow before the water boils. Ninety percent of the new computer parts do not match the quality of good used ones. This applies to motherboards, keyboards, processor fans, power supply units and the mouse.

We also need to consider the people who have been making a living by dealing in used computers. What will happen to their investment? How about the rest of the people who cannot afford new computers, like students, small business operators, schools, secretarial bureaus? How can we popularise IT when computers are not affordable.

Has the Government considered the financial and social implications of this decision? Why did the Government not warn people about the used computers’ ban in good time? People would not have invested so much money in these businesses.

It looks like some people have forgotten that the humans are also a part of the environment. It is not only the swamps and mountain gorillas that should be preserved. Man deserves fair treatment, a job, security in business, a right to acquire knowledge, wealth and wisdom using affordable computers.

In my opinion, the Government should levy an environmental tax of 5% on both new and used computers. This money should then be used to set up environment-friendly electronic-waste-disposal units dotted all over the country. This will help cater for the electronic waste which is bound to increase in the future.

The writer is an engineer

Create environment friendly recycling systems

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