The curse of technological innovation is increasing product obsolescence.
In 1995, the average life span of a computer was seven years – now it is two. With only 20 percent of Europe’s old computers being recycled, the remainder add an estimated 25 kilos of electronic waste per person, per year.
Given that the initial production of computers also uses vast amounts of resources – 240kg of fossil energy, 1,500 litres of water and a 22kg cocktail of chemicals, including mercury and arsenic – the full environmental impact of using and disusing our laptops is huge.
One answer to the problem can be found in a makeshift village built for homeless people, on the outskirts of Lyon, France. Extending over 2,500 square metres, the village in Villeurbanne opened in January 2012 and dozens of bungalows have been installed on the site which is owned by Lyon’s city council.
With the dual acknowledgment that landfilling e-waste is savaging our environment, and that those lacking access to computers in this day and age are increasingly at risk of social isolation, the French company DotRiver has set up a so-called ‘solidarity server’ there.
Saving three aged terminals from the scrapheap, technicians have connected them up as self-service computers, thereby extending their life-span by another 10 years.
The man behind the idea is Aubriot Francois, director of DotRiver. The server he has developed, installed in the centre’s kitchen, can store whole programmes.
Like everything in this project, it too is built from recycled material. He explained: “You have basic systems that are just used to operate a mouse, monitor, keyboard and network connection. Even a single terminal has all the programmes, the environment, and security data of people who are on the server. If we make our materials last longer, like we’ve done here, we will consume less new machinery and so this will have a positive impact on the environment. “
But this project is as much about the local and the social, as it is about the global and the green. Here, adults and children previously without access to computers, can work, write CVs, store documents, and perhaps most importantly of all, connect to the internet in search for employment and housing opportunities.
Mawa, and her daughter Honey, came from the Ivory Coast in the hope of work and becoming integrated into French society. She told euronews the computers have been very useful: “It’s vital to help me find the associations that can help me fit in here. I get what I want from the computers, so for me, if it is recycled, that’s a bonus!”
Lorena, who comes from Colombia, lives locally in Villeurbanne with her son David, and is expecting another child. Like Mawa, she is eager to improve her French and find work:“The computers are very important because they help me look for a job, to turn my Spanish CV into a French one, to study French through an online course – learning to listen and to speak – and also to communicate with my family.”
As the unrelenting pace of change in technology continues and electronics become swiftly outdated, there are still plenty of opportunities being thrown up by those products being thrown out.