Ewaste

Posted on January 3, 2011

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The preface to any conversation about green improvements could be: almost everyone doing anything for the environment is a hypocrite right now because our society has a long way to go in terms of sustainability–most any interface with society is going to be sketchy environmentally. (Look at me…I’m writing a blog about electronic waste [ewaste]…which wouldn’t be possible without my laptop and millions of other computers.) Ewaste is one of the issues that is insidiously propagated within Industrial society–and America in particular. I am guilty of sweeping it under the rug in favor of the newest gadget upgrade; doing my best to recycle after I’m done with it, mostly gritting my teeth, and covering my eyes and not looking into where it actually goes, knowing full well that it probably is going to some horrible fate. The truth is much worse than I cared to imagine. But it’s also very hopeful because there’s a lot that can be done right away to make a huge impact.

It was brought again to the forefront of my attention with the interview on Fresh Air by Terry Gross of Jim Puckett, founder and executive director of the Basil Action Network–an organization that monitors and works to reduce ewaste worldwide. I recommend listening to the interview in its entirety, but the high points are:
  • You should care because electronics contain a bunch of different toxic materials that are released either when they get into a landfill, or when poverty stricken people in sites around the world literally boil the parts to get the valuable raw materials out.
  • Most of the work to extract materials is done in hellish conditions by women and children–with no safety equipment or standards–so toxics are inhaled, among other atrocities.
  • Electronics get shipped overseas because A) it’s cheap, B) it’s not illegal in the US, C) many States have laws prohibiting ewaste from entering landfills, but States cannot regulate international trade, and there are no Federal laws prohibiting ewaste trade.
  • You can help by A) supporting manufacturers working to remove toxics from their products, B) find recyclers who are certified to deal with ewaste responsibly (see resources below).
Of note is the fact that this entire discussion ignores the initial procurement of the materials that our electronics are made from to start with. That’s a whole other kettle of fish. If there’s a lesson, it’s that nothing is sacred, and we have long way to go. At the same time, the challenge is exciting. Our technology has shrunk our world. It would seem at first blush that this is the problem itself. However, in that same interconnectedness lies the solution.

Also, for your entertainment, there’s this little video which sums it up too:

Resources: Basil Action Network, find an e-Steward recycler; Greenpeace Green Electronics Guide, support proactive manufacturers; EPA Epeat tool, use to learn about the EPA’s standards and find manufacturers.

Author: Ian Mac Moore. Check his blog out: Incarnate Green.

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