The total number of PCs in use today has broken the one billion
mark - but, not enough is being done to ensure all these machines
are safely broken down and recycled.
That is the conclusion of IT analyst house Gartner,
which has calculated that the installed base of PCs is currently
expanding by around 12 per cent a year. If this continues,
then the number of systems will reach two billion by 2014.
"Whereas mature markets accounted for just under 60
per cent of the first billion installed PCs, we expect emerging
markets to account for approximately 70 per cent of the next
billion installed PCs" - said Luis Anavitarte, research
vice president at Gartner. "Emerging market governments
are also increasingly committed to reducing the digital divide
by promoting PC use among their citizens through a variety
of means, including providing PCs directly to the less affluent."
Geographically mature markets in the US, Europe and Japan
contain just 15 per cent of the world's population - but account
for 58 per cent of the installed base of PCs. However, continually
falling PC prices and better wireless communication will drive
adoption in developing markets.
However, this is coming at a price to the environment. Gartner
warns that not enough PCs are being recycled and this is damaging
the environment. "We forecast just over 180 million PCs
- approximately 16 per cent of the existing installed base
- will be replaced this year" - said Meike Escherich,
principal research analyst at Gartner. "We estimate a
fifth of these - or some 35 million PCs - will be dumped into
landfill with little or no regard for their toxic content.
"It will become an even more pressing issue - especially
in emerging markets, as the number of retired PCs grows with
the continuing expansion of the PC installed base" -
Developing countries often suffer most as a result of poor
IT disposal practices. Not only are a high proportion of PCs
sent straight to landfill, but there have been numerous investigations
revealing that many old PCs shipped to countries such as India
and Nigeria for reuse or recycling, end up being broken down
in unsafe conditions where those working on the machines are
unprotected against the various hazardous chemical components.
The acid used to strip out precious metals from the machines
is also frequently allowed to infect the local groundwater,
contributing to crop failures and high mortality rates.
Legislation - such as Europe's WEEE Directive - has attempted
to tackle the problem by making PC producers legally responsible
for the safe disposal of the machines. However, such rules
are still relatively rare in many developing economies and
there have also been reports that even where such legislation
is in place, it often proves difficult to police.