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Articles: Science
Wooden computers for 'greener' desktop
- abbayigaru
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Bored by your beige computer? A Swedish company is offering what they say is an ecofriendly alternative: a range of wooden computer monitors and keyboards that aim to brighten office life, while cutting the environmental impact of computer junk. Around 45 million new personal computer systems were bought in 2002-03 in the United States alone, many of which will end up in landfills. There is growing concern that the plastic skeletons are stacking up, and that toxic materials in their casings, chips and displays are leaching into the environment. Many standard plastic computer casings contain chemicals called brominated flame retardants, added to improve fire safety. Once in the environment, the cancer-causing chemicals are thought to accumulate in animal and human tissues. To prevent this, Sollentuna-based company Swedx are making computer screens, keyboards and mice encased in timber.

Swedx's wooden cases are custom built using wood logged from managed forests in China, and they decompose faster than plastic. Swedx has sold several thousand computer pieces since it launched them last year. A 15-inch flat screen monitor, available in beech, ash or sapele wood, costs about EURO 400, a keyboard EURO 50 and a mouse EURO 40. That is roughly 30% more than plastic versions. Other companies are showing an interest in manufacturing wood-encased computers, and the market will grow. Even if sales went through the roof, however, wooden computers are unlikely to be an environmental panacea. Discarded machines contain other pollutants including lead in the monitor's cathode ray tubes and heavy metals such as cadmium in microchips.

There are other moves to clean up computers' environmental record. European Union legislation set to come into force in the next two years, for example, requires computer manufacturers to take responsibility for recycling electronic waste, and outlaws certain flame retardants and toxic metals from electronic equipment. Some American states have banned monitors from landfills.


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