Saturday, January 17, 2009

Trashed, Part Three


photo by Chien-min Chung

Robb and I do not define ourselves by the stuff we buy. Our sense of self worth comes from our achievements, not the things we bought at the store. Truthfully, we could give a damn about status items. And we really have no place in our lives for throw-away trinkets. We buy the highest quality products we can afford, and hope they last a really long time. The twenty-somethings I work with routinely describe my mobile phone as "Old School," and when they do that I just smile.

Our computers were bought used. My trusty bike, which I ride all the time is eleven years old. Our cars were both what car-dealers call pre-owned. (My demented love for this phrase cannot be described.) They're nice cars, and we take good care of them. Robb and I were out cycling and I pointed out a parked car, which was (just about) the model car Robb owned when we first met. He got all wistful, because that was the last car he owned that he was capable of repairing himself.

It, frankly, drives me crazy that we own so many items that we're incapable of repairing, and that are meant to be tossed in the trash when the product's consumer decides they "need" a newer, shinier thingamajiggger.

photo by Chien-min Chung

Where do you suppose your old computers, telephones, television sets, and other electronic gizmos go when you throw them out?

If you are like 80% of Americans who chuck this stuff in the trash, your dead tech goes into the landfill, where it will leach toxins into the groundwater.

If you've tried to be a good citizen, you've taken them to an electronic recycling company. But how do you know that these companies aren't sending your dead tech to the China or India or Nigeria, where the "recycling technology" seems more Bronze Age than High Tech? Sadly, much of the developed world's e-waste is being sent to countries with no standards for worker safety. And the American Government has worked against the international treaty that would prevent developed countries from dumping their toxic electronics on the Third World.

photo by Chien-min Chung

In "recycling centers" in Guiyu, China, workers extract the metal components of consumer electronics. Computer chips, which have been melted off of circuit boards, are hand submerged in a mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid. These workers inhale acid fumes, chlorine and sulfur dioxide gas, without any respiratory protection.

In the same town in China, workers spend the day stripping plastic cased wires from electronic waste. At night, they will burn off the plastics, exposing themselves to cancer causing fumes. Surely the fact that Guiyu, China highest level of cancer-causing dioxins in the world and an elevated rate of miscarriages is related to the e-waste recycling that is its main industry.

Robb and I have been thinking about these issues a lot lately, because we've been on a (pathetically slow) campaign to de-clutter our lives, and because we recently replaced our fourteen-year old (!) printer . We will be taking our little collection of antiquated technology to a local non-profit organization that will donate any working gear to schools, other non-profit organizations and people with disabilities. Any non-salvageable electronics will be disposed of by a local company, in accordance with Federal environmental laws.

There are organizations that donate old mobile phones to women who are victims of domestic abuse, or the elderly or people with disabilities. Not everyone needs a fancy camera phone after all. Some people just need to know that they have the ability to call for help, if they have to.

So, when you are considering purchasing that new shiny tricked out electronic thingamajigger, please give some thought to the fate of the thingamajigger that you're going to be tossing out. Maybe you really don't need the new one, after all.

There are many options out for the responsible disposal of electronic waste. Won't you try to educate yourself about your options?

photographer unknown


Ladyaero said...

"Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without."

Ziska said...

John and Diane said...

Are you all familiar with the artwork of Chris Jordan? Stunning works about our consumer culture. Check out -
I volunteer at a homeless shelter one day a week and seeing the overwhelming amount of junk that people donate really made me cut back on my consumption. I still have a long way to go though.

Sarcasmo said...

I have been recycling and have brought my kids up in that atmosphere for over 10 years now. Not everywhere we lived had that available. We seperate our plastic, cans, paper, boxes and glass a the center after semi-seperating it as we throw it in bins at home. We're doing what we can to help the environment. I have reinstated the art program at my childrens' school. We have no funding for this aside from the "mural canvasses" I helped the grade schoolers design and directed them to paint. The money from the sale of these goes into the art budget but it's not enuf. We will be collecting shredded paper to make paper mache and paper mache clay to make found object sculptures for the next couple months and have a discussion with the kids about the excess we as humans create in material and waste. This is what I'm doing to help the environment. We also hope to have an article in the local paper so the kids' can see the product of their efforts and take pride in the helping earth.
Sarcasmo A/Q


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