We plan to find the facts and truth behind
the popular question Which is more “green”,
the Laptop or the Desktop?
By popular internet belief, the Laptop is the
more ecologically friendly machine, however
it is likely that the people came up with that
conclusion ignoring extremely important
factors like production costs, recyclability,
disposal costs, and life span.
A laptop battery consists of copper wire that connects a
positive and negative electrode. Materials used include
carbon, alkaline, chlorine, lithium ion, lead, nickel, sodium,
silicon, copper, and a list of other chemicals, some of which
are harmful to the environment if burned or cremated.
Laptop battery production is very expensive, however
materials in a battery can and should be recycled. Contain
dangerous heavy metals, acid wastes, and waste alkali.
Improper disposal, and lack of recycling, of Laptop batteries
causes disastrous environmental harm. Heavy metals in
batteries cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, zinc, and manganese
are all harmful to humans. Batteries improperly disposed, like
the ones that are simply thrown into landfills and garbage piles
in China, can lead to severe water pollution. A single disposed
laptop battery can cause about a square meter of land to lose
It is very important to recycle laptop batteries. Not only are they
harmful to the environment by simply sitting out in the sunlight and
air, but the valuable metals contained inside the battery are
reusable. The recycling process starts out with separation into
groups based on chemical make-up, such as nickel-cadmium, nickel-
metal-hydride, lithium, and alkaline. Then the combustible
material is removed and naked cells only containing the precious
metals are formed.
After that, the metals are sent back to the manufacturing
companies for reuse. Battery recycling is a must for environmental
protection. As of now many laptop batteries are being disposed of
improperly because recycling is more costly for companies, but
recycling is becoming an ever prevailing alternative.
Display of the kinds of heavy
metals inside batteries
Dissected Laptop Battery
Generally laptop’s consist of four major parts for production, the
upper cover, screen frame, keyboard cover and lower cover. Top
and medium-grade covers are primarily made of a substance called
“Magaluma, and low-grade covers are made out of plastics.
Magaluma is aluminum-magnesium alloy and it serves as a
protective case” (Research and Market) when it is applied as a thin
It is estimated that the 2-gram microchips used in laptops for
memory require at least 3.7 pounds of fuel and chemicals to
produce. In addition to that it takes about 70 pounds of water.
While a car’s weight versus the weight of the things needed to
produce it is 1-2, for a laptop’s microchip this scale is 1-630
Studies have shown that laptops consume and average of 15W in
high power mode and only 3W in low power mode. Also, when
charging but turned off laptops consume between 12W and 24W.
Desktops primarily consist of three parts, the main processing machine which
itself consists of power supplier, fan, IC boards, DVD drive, CD drive, hard
disk, and soft disk and shell casing, the monitor, and the keyboard.
Desktops contain many materials such as heavy metals, chemicals, and
elements however two components are especially harmful. One of such is
Desktop monitors are especially hazardous because they
contain cathode ray tube. Cathode ray tubes make up about 50% of
the monitors weight. They consist of a number of chemicals, but
the most important is its 20% lead content. When monitors are
permitted to waste away in landfills the lead is leached into the soil
and water which can be dangerous to humans by creeping its way
through the food chain.
LCD monitors which have now surpassed the CRT monitors
don’t have the lead content making them ecologically better,
however they have a large mercury content which is very
problematic in landfills. In addition to that LCD monitors require
266Kg more fossil fuels to produce.
The plastics contained within desktops are used for protective cases. They
contain materials such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers which are part of a
wider group known as brominated flame retardants (BFRs). BFRs are
difficult to recycle because of their high bromine content which makes they
hard to separate from normal plastics. The effects of BFRs on humans are
largely unknown, however they have proved to be toxic to lab rats. Traces
of BFRs are being found in higher concentrations in humans.
According to desktop analysis study, a typical desktop computer
uses a considerable amount of electrical energy. The average CPU uses 120
Watts (W = 1 joule/second) of electricity, while a CRT monitor consumes an
added 150 W. “This implies that a standard office computer which is left on
8 hours per day, for 5 days a week can consume up to 561.6 kW of fossil fuel
derived energy. This figure more than triples if such computer is left on over
night for the entire week” (Environmental Impact of Computer Information).
Another study showed desktops using up about 55W in high power
mode and 25W in low power. It also said CRT monitors were about 85W when
turned on for the average size monitor (Environmental Impact of Computer
In 2005 about 61 percent, or 107,500 tons, of CRT monitors were collected
for recycle and reuse, leaving a large portion to be tossed in a landfill and
harm the environment. However, a study showed that from 2000 to 2005 the
amount of desktop units recycled went up from 3 million to 5 million. In this
process, the lead recover rate is only 6 percent, so hundreds of thousands of
tons of lead is lost or let to sit out in landfills.
The laptop was the clear winner in our eyes because of the
fact that it topped the desktop by a good amount in its
potency as e-waste, because of the fact that the desktop
is so much larger, as has a very hazardous composition for
its monitors. The amount of heavy metals and acids in a
laptop battery does not compare to the CRT monitor of a
desktop. Not only that, but its energy consumption rate is
also much higher. Although the average lifespan of a
desktop is about twice that of a laptop, it doesn’t make up
for its energy consumption and amount of toxic materials.
Other than that, the recyclability for both is about the
Its pretty much impossible to find the absolute
undeniably most ecological computer, however all the
potential candidates are not the traditional desktop or
laptop. One such machine is called the Cherrypal PC
which uses only “2W of power and weighs as little as 284
grams. The Cherrypal is made of typical plastics used in
other computers that aren’t biodegradable, however it
uses 80% fewer components” (Carlise).
“The device itself is a type of computing system
capable of text editing, media playing, and web browsing.
The Cherrypal is built using a 400MHz mobileGT processor,
256MB of DDR2 DRAM and 4GB of NAND Flash-based SSD. It
also provides the user with wifi and an ethernet port”
(Carlise). All that for 250$ makes it a difficult temptation
for green lovers to turn down.
The device is about the size of a notebook and was created
for the large portion of people who only use computers for
Word and office programs.
Bluejay, Michael. quot;How much electricity does my computer use?quot; Saving
Electricity. June 2008. 7 June 2009 <http://michaelbluejay.com/
quot;Electronics Recycling.quot; EWasteFactSheet. Illinois Department of Commerce and
Economic Opportunity. 7 June 2009 <http://www.commerce.state.il.us/NR/
quot;One Laptop Per Child/Computer.quot; One Laptop Per Child. 7 June 2009
quot;Research and Markets: Currently, 55% Laptop Manufacturers Adopt Magaluma
as the Material of the...quot; AllBusiness. 6 June 2008. Businesswire. 7 June 2009
Sharaf. quot;E-waste and Recycling.quot; Soaphia. 13 Dec. 2008. 7 June 2009
Steeves, Catherine, and Gillian Maurice. quot;Superconference 2007.quot;
Feb. 2007. 7 June 2009
Adamson, Melanie, Hamilton, Robert, Hutchison, Kazmierowski, Lau,
MacDonald. “Environmental Impact of Computer Information Technology in an
Institutional Setting: A Case Study at the University of Guelph” June 2009
Carlise, Courtney. “Hot Tech: Cherry Pal”. June 2009.