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The Environmental Impact of CD-ROMs

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Kevin Marshall
Kevin Marshall
February 19, 2014

In the current era of climate change and depleting fossil fuels, more people are looking to explore whether the things we use in our everyday lives have a negative environmental impact. From the item’s use to the way they are recycled at the end of their working lives, every step of the process can be improved to create an increasingly small carbon footprint. CD-ROMs are a part of our technology which has been in place for many years and used to transmit data, reproduce files for sharing, and to back-up information. But what kind of impact on the environment does a CD-ROM have?

Broken CD

The flat, shiny discs are typically made from a combination of materials which are both non-renewable as well as not being biodegradable. These include components made from aluminum, petroleum dyes, and polycarbonate compounds, which means that it is difficult to dispose of a CD-ROM when it is no longer needed. Instead, it is probable that a disc would be sent to landfill, or else incinerated. Incineration causes the release of toxic dioxins; landfills at least do not cause the production of dangerous gases, but the discs do not decompose. There are technologies which can recycle CD-ROM elements into a form of plastic, but the process is costly and not commonplace. It is generally recommended to use recordable DVD-ROMs for storing information today, as their storage capacity is several times larger than that of a CD. Though the DVD-ROM faces the same problems for disposal as a CD-ROM, the corresponding increase in storage would potentially reduce the actual number of discs in circulation and thus likely to reach a landfill.

Fortunately, the booklets, case lining notes, and other printed papers which usually accompany a CD are much easier to recycle. Paper products can be ‘pulped’ down at the end of their life to be turned back into a kind of paper; though not without its carbon emissions, this process is much more environmentally sustainable than the constant creation of the new paper. Plastic jewel cases, on the other hand, are very harmful to the environment and are also not easy to recycle, as well as not being biodegradable. Make sure to contact the right people that can inform you on how to recycle CD-ROMs properly!

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