When a member of an internet forum posted to ask how he should responsibly dispose of some old computer games, the responses weren't entirely predictable. While some posters suggested using freecycle.org--where users can offer and accept each other's unwanted goods for free--one thought that keeping them was the only course of action. 'Personally,' said the poster, 'I would hang on to them because one day on Antiques Roadshow, you will see old computer software on there as collectables. Never throw away old things--they become more valuable as time goes on.'
While that's good in theory, in practice, computer games and consoles are now so popular that few gamers have a home large enough to allow unlimited storage forever. So games and the platforms on which they are played are increasingly joining the other forms of disposable entertainment (from CDs to DVD players and televisions) in landfill. And given the deliberately high turnover of titles and equipment--what would Christmas be without a new offering from Nintendo and Sony?--it offers potentially a much greater problem in terms of quantity. In fact, more than 100 million current-generation consoles have been sold worldwide, and the market expands by 14 per cent a year, according to Greenpeace, which has launched the Clash of the Consoles campaign, asking consumers to put pressure on the manufacturers to clean up their act.
The charity is particularly concerned about the toxic elements used in constructing consoles and the energy needed to power them. According to the March 2009 Guide to Greener Electronics, Greenpeace International's quarterly league table of the top 17 electronics companies' behaviour with regard to toxic chemicals, recycling and climate change, the worst performer is Nintendo (manufacturer of the Wii). This company has banned phthalates and is monitoring the use of toxic chemicals antimony and beryllium (often used for flame proofing), and although it's endeavouring to eliminate the use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic, it hasn't set a timeline for phasing it out. However, on climate change, Greenpeace says: 'Nintendo discloses carbon dioxide emissions from its own operations and commits to cutting CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases by two per cent over each previous year. However, Nintendo admits that an increase in business led to a six per cent rise in C[O.sub.2] emissions in 2006.'
The Clash of the Consoles report also looked at Sony's PlayStation 3 (PS3) and Microsoft's Xbox 360, and found these equally worrying. Sony was cautioned for its toxic chemicals and for being energy-hungry, but the company scored better on recycling. Microsoft was praised for its chemicals management and for setting a deadline of 2010 to eliminate PVC and all brominated flame retardants. But while it accepts responsibility for its electronic waste, 'Microsoft fails to provide voluntary take-back for its customers' end-of-life products or sufficient information to customers to score any points'.
However, lovers of the Wii can take heart: it's highly energy efficient, with a peak power consumption of 18 watts, compared with around 180 watts for the Xbox 360, 190 watts for the PS3, and 200 watts for a PC. Research by hardcoreware.net, an independent PC reviews website, found that when the consoles were on but not being used for gaming, the results were equally startling. The Wii clocked up just 13.5 watts, the Xbox 360 used 157 watts, the PS3 used 177 watts, and the PC improved its score with 145 watts.
RECYCLE, UPGRADE OR DISPOSE?
What to do with all the abandoned platforms is the next problem. All waste electronic and electrical equipment (known as WEEE--and including TVs and fridges, as well as computers) is covered by restrictions on how it can be disposed of; anything that carries a crossed-out wheelie bin symbol shouldn't be thrown out with household rubbish. The aim of this strategy is to reduce the one million tonnes of WEEE that the government estimates is thrown out by British households every year. …