After decades of technological advances, the average microchip weighs less than an ounce. But its environmental impact is massive. According to a new study, it takes 3.7 pounds of fossil fuels and chemicals to create each of the 78 billion integrated circuits, or chips, manufactured annually (or roughly 600 pounds to make the chips in one personal computer). Some 70 pounds of water are used to rinse out impurities in a single chip.
Eric Williams, a researcher at United Nations University in Tokyo, hopes that the results of his study, the first such detailed calculation, will lead to processes that save energy and materials. In the meantime, consumers can help reduce the waste. "The short lifetime of computer equipment exacerbates its environmental impact," says Williams. "Over ten years we may buy only one automobile, but five computers." When you add up all the hidden expenses, being on the cutting edge may not be worth the cost.