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Life cycle assessment of a personal computer and its effective recycling rate

TitleLife cycle assessment of a personal computer and its effective recycling rate
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsChoi B-C, Shin H-S, Lee S-Y, Hur T
Journal TitleInternational Journal of Life Cycle Assessment
Volume11
Pages122 – 128
KeywordsComputer industry, design for the environment (DfE), end-of-life management, Korean national database, recycling rate
AbstractBackground, Aims and Scope. Telecommunication and informationtechnology, dramatically emerged during the last decade,has generated environmental problems by accelerating massproduction, mass consumption, and mass disposal of personalcomputers (PCs) in Korea. In addition, it has led the Koreannew economy. The Korean government has encouraged researchersand industry to study the environmental impact, adequatedisposal treatment, and the reasonable recycling rate of an endof-life personal computer. The main purpose of this research isto investigate the life cycle environmental impact of PCs and todetermine the desirable or feasible recycle rate of an end-of-lifePC. An LCA on a PC was performed based on different recyclingscenario. Target audiences are new product developers,designers, product recovery managers and environmental policymakers who are interested in the environmental impact of PCsand recycling of end-of-life products.Methods. A target product is a Pentium IV personal computermade in Korea in 2001, excluding the monitor and peripheralequipment. The procedure of the LCA followed the ISO14040series. System boundary includes the entire life cycle of the product,including pre-manufacturing (the electrical parts and componentsmanufacturing), manufacturing, transportation, use, anddisposal. The LCI and impact assessment database for a PC wasconstructed using SIMAPRO version 4.0 software and LCI informationwas compiled by site-specific data and the Korean nationaldatabase. The LCA was performed on different recyclingscenarios: one being that of the current recycling rate of 46%,and the other being the ideal condition of a 100% recycling rate.Results and Discussion. Abiotic depletion, global warming, ecotoxicity,human toxicity, acidification, ozone layer depletion,photo-oxidant formation, and eutrophication are adopted asthe impact categories. The pre-manufacturing stage was a significantstage for all of the environmental parameters, besideshuman toxicity potential. PC manufacturing consists of rathersimple processes such as assembly and packaging. For improvingthe environmental performance of PCs, environmental managementapproaches of design for the environment and greenprocurement are recommended. The use stage had a significantpotential due to the electricity consumption produced by burningfossil fuel. The disposal stage's contribution to environmentalimpact was largest in human toxicity, and second largest inozone layer depletion potential. The PC recycling was shown toinhibit all environmental impacts with the exception of the ozonedepletion and ecotoxicity potential. The increase of light oil,nitric acid, sulfuric acid, and deoxidating agent consumptionduring the recycling process contributes to the environmentalimpact of ozone and ecotoxicity parameters. Current recoveryand recycling technologies should be taken into account for enhancingthe benefits of recycling. Anyway, the effectiveness ofrecycling was highlighted by this study. PC recycling reduces thetotal environmental impact of the product. The PC recycling isrecommended to be raised up to at least 63% in order to reducethe environmental burdens of a PC in other life cycle stages.Conclusion and Recommendation. This study implies that designfor the environment (DfE) in the product design stage and greenprocurement are recommended for improving the entire environmentalperformance of electronic equipment such as PCs. Therecycling of waste PCs clearly reduces the environmental burden.There are, however, trade-offs among environmental parametersaccording to the PC recycling rate. Current recycling methods arenot effective in reducing ozone depletion and ecotoxicity environmentalimpact. The product recovery is another key for efficientrecycling. Efficient reverse logistics to collect and transportend-of-life PCs should be taken into account to enhance recyclingeffects. There were several electrical parts not included in thisassessment, due to the unavailability of adequate data. Furtherstudies with more detail and reliable inventories for electrical partsand sub-components are recommended. Furthermore, costs ofrecycling should also be treated in further research.
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