It’s entirely possible that I am the only person who buys books for people for Christmas any longer, since if you turned on a television at all over the Thanksgiving holiday (more fool you), all you saw were reports about people queuing up and flooding into big box electronics stores to buy the latest gadgets, many of which will likely be replacing older gadgets. Where will those old gadgets go? And therein lies the problem of “e-waste.” Greener Computing looks at a brace of e-waste studies—the good and the bad. In the case of the bad, Colorado-based investigative reporters tracked e-waste and found that computers slated for “recycling” can in fact end up in landfills, often by shipping them to the Third World: “Some recyclers simply export containers full of electronics, in apparent violation of U.S. and foreign law, and with potentially devastating environmental and health consequences.” The consequences?
Burning piles of plastic, children blackened by poisonous dirt. High levels of lead, cadmium, dioxins and other poisons have taken a documented toll on the health of workers, and their neighbors and children. In places like Nigeria, Ghana, India and China, these dumps are known repositories for the West's unwanted electronics.
A second report, from Demos and written by Elizabeth Grossman, also tracks our “high-tech trash.” From the Executive Summary:
In contrast to other waste streams such as industrial effluents and air pollution, the rapidly growing electronic waste (e-waste) stream is largely uncontrolled and lightly regulated, relying on a patchwork of corporate "take-back" initiatives, state and local recycling programs, and a handful of (mainly European) e-waste policy directives. With projections of 4 to 5 billion units entering the e-waste stream from the United States alone over the next 10 years, we urgently need to develop a more comprehensive and coordinated policy framework to restrict hazardous dumping and recycling while also regulating and incentivizing design innovations that extend product life-spans and reduce overall toxicity in electronics.
The Demos report offers a more positive conclusion in the form of action items. Some highlights:
  • Expand existing extended producer responsibility take-back and recycling programs.
  • End the export of hazardous e-waste.
  • Support research and development in green chemistry and engineering, around two goals: design for-the-environment aimed at reducing use of hazardous chemicals and other materials in electronics production and finished products (from manufacture through end of product life); and design for materials recovery and reuse at the end of product life (in all categories of electronics).
  • Expand the number of recyclers certified through the e-Stewards program and use of e-Stewards certified recyclers.
  • Prohibit the deposit of any electronics or components (including batteries) in landfills or incinerators.
  • To ensure safety for workers engaged in manufacturing, materials recovery, and recycling operations.
The report is a free PDF download, and is only 33 pages long, Perhaps a copy of it (printed on recycled paper, natch) would make a nice “accessory” to that slick new electronic you give for Christmas. Or you could buy people books, which don’t have this problem...