30 January 2007 (Seattle, WA.) – The Seattle based toxic trade watchdog, Basel Action Network (BAN), is concerned that Microsoft has done little to prevent or mitigate the massive hardware obsolescence that is likely to be caused by the release of its latest operating system known as Vista. The environmental organization predicts that the software launch will create a 'tsunami' of e-waste exported to developing countries already awash in e-waste exports, as consumers in rich countries dispose of their existing computers and buy new machines capable of running the new operating system.
BAN noted the contradiction of Microsoft founder Bill Gates latest high-tech progeny in light of the charitable mission of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation "to bring innovations in health and learning to the global community."
"Today with the release of Vista, Microsoft could bring both a massive digital dump and a perpetuation of the digital divide to the global community," said Jim Puckett, coordinator of the Basel Action Network. "It is shameful how little innovation and concern the electronics industry continues to demonstrate for the long-term consequences of their products in light of their abilities to innovate front-end gadgetry to encourage sales." he said.
A study by the Softchoice Corporation[i] estimated that about half of the average business PCs in North America do not meet the minimum requirements for Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system, and 94 percent do not meet the system requirements for Vista Premium -- the enhanced business version. While some of this obsolescence can be solved with RAM upgrades, it is likely that many businesses will not bother with such labor intensive servicing but will simply discard their existing computers.
According to BAN, more than 50% of these computers globally, are exported to developing countries either whole or dissassembled, where they are processed and disposed of in a manner that causes serious damage to workers and local environments. The result of this is that the gains of the electronics industry translate into serious environmental costs externalized to the poor. BAN earlier documented the cyber-age nightmares in such countries as China, India or Nigeria where women and children 'cook' lead-tin soldered circuit boards over small fires, soak chips in dangerous acid baths along river ways, smash lead and phosphor laden cathode ray tubes, and burn wires and plastic housings in open dumps.[ii]
Further, BAN notes that every time software makes hardware obsolete, the digital divide is actually perpetuated, because the divide is not defined by the gap between those with computers and those without, but by those with the latest innovations and those without. And when exported obsolete computers are handed down to developing country consumers for re-use, a toxic timebomb is created there due to the fact that the electronics industry has made no effort to ensure that infrastructure is in put in place to properly collect and manage their products at end-of-life.
"Most developing countries have no infrastructure whatsoever to collect and recycle computers, so when they die they are simply dumped and burned," Puckett said. "A truly responsible industry will take steps to ensure that innovation does not automatically equate to obsolescence, toxic waste and a growing population of hardware have-nots," he said.
BAN hopes to work with its Seattle area neighbor Microsoft and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to ensure that innovation and obsolescence are de-linked in future.
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