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J Environ Manage. 2009 Aug;90(11):3498-511. doi: 10.1016/j.jenvman.2009.06.002. Epub 2009 Jun 28.

One laptop per child, local refurbishment or overseas donations? Sustainability assessment of computer supply scenarios for schools in Colombia.

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Empa, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research, Technology and Society Laboratory, Lerchenfeldstrasse 5, 9014 St. Gallen, Switzerland.


With the intention of bridging the 'digital divide' many programmes have been launched to provide computers for educational institutions, ranging from refurbishing second hand computers to delivering low cost new computers. The fast and economical provision of large quantities of equipment is one of the many challenges faced by such programmes. If an increase is to be achieved in the sustainability of computer supplies for schools, not only must equipment be provided, but also suitable training and maintenance delivered. Furthermore, appropriate recycling has to be ensured, so that end-of-life equipment can be dealt with properly. This study has evaluated the suitability of three computer supply scenarios to schools in Colombia: (i) 'Colombian refurbishment', -refurbishment of computers donated in Colombia, (ii) 'Overseas refurbishment', -import of computers which were donated and refurbished abroad, and (iii) 'XO Laptop', -purchase of low cost computers manufactured in Korea. The methods applied were: Material Flow Assessment, -to assess the quantities-, Life Cycle Assessment, -to assess the environmental impacts, and the application of the Multiple Attribute Utility Theory, -to analyse, evaluate and compare different scenarios. The most sustainable solution proved to be the local refurbishment of second hand computers of Colombian origin to an appropriate technical standard. The environmental impacts of such practices need to be evaluated carefully, as second hand appliances have to be maintained, require spare parts and sometimes use more energy than newer equipment. Providing schools with second hand computers from overseas and through programmes such as 'One Laptop Per Child' has the disadvantage that the potential for social improvements - such as creation of jobs and local industry involvement - is very low.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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