Pro-environment PCs

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Our black-and-beige PCs are going green. Environmental green, that is. And it's a change coming to the United States with little effort from Americans. Hazardous materials will begin disappearing from electronics on U.S. store shelves this spring as manufacturers race to meet new government directives – from Europe. European Union regulations go into effect this July that force makers to essentially remove lead, cadmium, mercury, and other substances from electronic devices.

It's those poisons that make electronics, notably computers and monitors, expensive to recycle and dangerous to dump.

While the regs have no force in the United States, most factories find it easier to remove the materials from their entire production lines. Or they're being pushed that way by a few major U.S. retailers, including Wal-Mart. The giant discounter says that all PCs and laptops on its shelves will be compliant with the EU regs by July. "We found that we could get rid of the hazards without raising prices," says Alex Cook, a Wal-Mart executive in charge of buying PCs.

Actually, electronics makers say the regs are adding to their costs. Lead, for example, has been an essential element in soldering components together. Leadless soldering is more complicated and has meant retooling production lines.

Still, the overall prices of components continue to fall. That means Wal-Mart can sell a new Toshiba laptop in July at the same $600 price as last year, and it will have a bigger hard drive and faster processor while also being environmentally friendly, Cook says.

So we may not be getting green components free, but in the world of electronics, it can feel like it.