The Environmental Implications of iPads and Other Tablet Computers

The electronics revolution that defined the last decade turned companies like Apple into corporate empires, provided fuel for economic and industrial revolutions in China and elsewhere in Asia, and gave consumers access to extraordinary technology that would have been considered science fiction just a few short years before. Tablets such as the iPad have become the digital face of this revolution.

Powerhouses that revolutionized the way we work, play, and consume media, tablets also have a darker side in regards to environmental and social impact. Here are the pros and cons of tablets.

Pro: Truly Paperless

Computers were supposed to usher in a "paperless society." In reality, the ability to word process and print alone created mountains upon mountains of paper that hadn't previously been imaginable. Tablets give us a unique ability to truly remove paper clutter from our lives and from our landfills and keep trees rooted in the ground while taking the burden off of recycling centers.

By utilizing credit-card readers such as Square, businesses can make electronic transactions without receipts. Its portability means that you can take your notes, calendars, and to-do lists with you - all without ever picking up a pencil.

Facts: The Environmental Argument for Tablets

·  New information shows that nearly half of all tablet users have decreased their printing habits.

·  Seven gallons of water are required to produce an average paper book. An e-book, however, requires fewer than two cups of water.

·  2.5 grams of carbon dioxide are produced every hour by a tablet. Compare that to a 13-15 watt CFL light bulb (60-watt incandescent equivalent), which generates more than 54 grams of the greenhouse gas every hour.


Con: eWaste

In 2010, 2 percent of Americans owned tablets. Today, that number is 25 percent. As tablet ownerships skyrockets, so does eWaste. It is estimated that by 2025, the amount of global eWaste will reach an unsustainable 25 million tons per year.

eWaste is a general term used to describe waste that comes from disposing electronics such as tablets. Dangerous elements such as lithium, lead, or mercury can be found in both the housing, batteries, and circuitry of many electronics. Because of stricter regulations in America and the West, these dangerous elements often end up in landfills in poorer countries.

Con: Labor Issues

While millions of people have been lifted out of poverty in Asia in recent years, the booming economies of emerging powers such as China have risen on the backs of what are sometimes morally deficient labor practices. Not only are the workers who assemble tablets often young, vulnerable, underpaid, overworked, and mistreated, but the minerals used for producing - specifically for batteries - some electrical components are mined in countries where labor and environmental laws are all but nonexistent. One of the reasons tablets are affordable for average consumers is because of the labor conditions suffered by the people who build them.

Tablets are changing the country - and the world. Consumed in ever-growing numbers by comparatively wealthy people in the West, they have improved communication, media, and business in ways previously never imagined. There are, however, downsides when it comes to their environmental and social impact. Research, learn, and weigh the pros and cons before you buy.

Andrew Lisa is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He writes about technology and the green movement, as well as financial and regional topics such as how to find inexpensive California car insurance.

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