Waste Not

Electronics are an issue for developing countries, the environment when incorrectly recycled

Waste Not

It feels as though it weighs 20 pounds and sports a black plastic cover. It has taken long walks on the beach with me and been by my side as I’ve edited into the wee hours of the morning. It’s annoying too; I frequently give it “the look” as it’s demise draws near.

Yes you guessed it, my 2010 Dell computer. I’m in the process of buying a new laptop and struggling to figure out what to do with the current one. Electronic waste, commonly referred to as “e-waste,” is all the rubbish from electronic devices once we don’t want them anymore and it’s been an issue for some time.

There are many reasons to distrust the electronics recycling system. Improper procedures add to the troubling materialism surrounding the pattern of purchasing new gadgets only to discard them years later.

According to a “Wired” article written by Mark McClusky, technology such as phones, tablets and computers are built to last until the newest installment is released.  It becomes a vicious cycle, further fueled, McClusky said, by the lack of replacement parts being sold. The opportunities to repair broken electronics appear dismal to the average customer.

E-Wasteland” was a documentary released in 2012 from director David Fedele. In it, the garish evidence of electronics’ frequent end is difficult to ignore.

Approximately 200,000 tons of electronic material arrive in Ghana each year, the documentary says, causing pollution and severe health issues. The toxic elements in our electronics, such as mercury-containing lamps and toners are ignored as companies make money by selling the lot to developing countries like Ghana.

Shots in the documentary focus on manual aspects of inappropriately disassembling e-waste. Fedele said this effect was sought after so that viewers could see their expensive toys broken apart into what they are: elements, wires and plastic.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimated five years ago that only 20 percent of electronic waste was properly recycled. The other 80 percent went into the trash. When technology is discarded for trash, concerns rise about its environmental impact.

I can’t begin to count how many iPhones and fad-related gadgets I’ve seen myself and friends go through. One screen is cracked at the same time that the newest phone is released and suddenly it becomes easily dispensable, factoring into the 130 million phones tossed annually.

While ethically recycling e-waste in the U.S. is an option, senior editor Bryan Walsh at Time magazine suggested providing the necessary equipment and facilities to developing countries so their workers can dismantle the waste in a safe environment.

How do we make sure we’re recycling our old electronics properly? By checking to see if they’re certified electronics recyclers, which keeps an eye on worker conditions and environmental impact. In this way, we can be more sure electronics won’t contribute to an already significant global issue. Best Buy and Target both offer recycling pick-up spots for old gadgets as well.

I’m saying “ciao” to my work companion this week. However, it doesn’t mean it should become someone else’s issue.