More discussion of e-waste

We really spent only one class session discussing e-waste, but I think it is a really important topic. The starting point of our discussion was “The Electronic Wasteland”, which originally aired on CBS’s 60 Minutes. It is a startling video. I think it is something we should be sharing with our friends and families

When I have had old computers to recycle, I have taken them to either FreeGeek Columbus (which seems to be defunct) or Ohio Drop Off. I assume my old electronics were reused or recycled responsibly, but I have no way of knowing for sure. And even if there are good places that recycle electronics responsibly, there will be others that don’t. It is much cheaper to recycle electronics in developing countries that have little health and environmental regulation or enforcement than it is to do the recycling around here. As long as that is true, there will be businesses that send electronics to the “wasteland” in order to save money — even if it means making people sick and polluting the land.

In class, we mentioned a few possible solutions to the e-waste problem. One idea was to design electronics with more replaceable and upgradable parts. That way things do not become obsolete as quickly, and there is less total e-waste. Another idea was to add to the cost of electronics a fee that would be refunded only if the item was returned to an authorized center for recycling. (This is similar to how some states handle recycling of bottles and cans.)

What are some other solutions? What are the pros and cons of each solution?

3 Responses to More discussion of e-waste

  1. One con I can think of to the “design electronics with more replaceable and upgradable parts” idea is that even when a device is designed so that its parts may be easily replaced with newer faster components when they become available, the old parts that are taken out still have to be disposed of or recycled in some way.
    This idea wouldn’t necessarily get rid of the problem. It seems, though, that it would cut down on the rate at which e-waste piles up.

    Another possible idea/solution to this e-waste problem is perhaps to somehow use old parts as materials of some sort. Materials for what, exactly, is the hard part of the question to answer.
    This idea came to my mind because of something I saw on facebook about Heinekin creating beer bottles that can be used as bricks after they are empty.
    Here’s a link to some info on that:
    http://inhabitat.com/heineken-wobo-the-brick-that-holds-beer/

    Obviously a motherboard or processor chip wouldn’t really work well as a brick, but I’m sure there could be other uses for old electronic parts as materials.

  2. That is definitely a topic that is up for debate. We have been producing so much e-waste without even thinking about it, it is crazy. Every year we buy new phones and new computers to keep up with the trends and to have the newest and coolest thing. What do we do with the old ones?? Most of us just throw them away. I had always admired those who actually took the time and spent the effort to take their old electronics to a “proper” recycling facility in order to save the environment. Throwing away electronics isn’t seen as bad of a thing to do as throwing away coke cans or water bottles without recycling them. And unfortunately, I found out in class that when the very few of us do recycle their e-waste, they are not being recycled properly. The 60 minutes video almost made it look like we cause more damage to ourselves by recycling electronics rather than throwing them away.

    I personally cannot believe that the US allows all this waste to be exported to developing countries. I mean this is “The US” we are talking, the country that will do “anything” to make sure you are not a threat when you entering it, but also, apparently, the country that doesn’t care as much about things leaving it. I would think that they would be just as careful when it comes to monitoring what is coming out of it. Maybe it is corruption, or maybe that is just the way it is.

    It is very saddening seeing how things are recycled. Not to be cocky but I see myself as an educated person, and even I only found out last week about how electronics are recycled. If I only now found out, then the public must be clueless. Awareness needs to raised among the people.

  3. Unfortunately for me I was not in class for the e-waste topic, but I watched the video aired on CBS’s 60 minutes. The video is starling and it shows first hand what happens to waste products after they are shipped from developed countries like the US to developing countries. The sad part is it that exportation of e-waste is very hard to stop because the locals who suffer from diseases that accompany e-waste encourage the act, because they make money out of it.

    One of the solution you guys mentions is to create replaceable and upgradable parts so that the products will stay longer. This is a very good idea for a short while, but the problem with this is that technology is evolving at a very fast pace, most people will prefer portable, faster and newer computers, and tend to buy another computer rather than replacing a part or upgrading. Another problem with replacing parts in a computer is that it makes not sense; transferring all date in a drive and buy a new computer is more convenient and cheaper that wasting time to replace a part and going through the hustle of upgrading software.

    One effective solution I can think of is one implemented by The Gambia; 15 minutes from where I used to live, Serekunda, there was an area just for dumping e-waste from foreign countries, like the scene on the video. What the government did was to raise import taxes on used electronics so high in order to discourage importing e-waste; this practice after few years worked because the plot was almost e-waste free. Here in America, one solution can be to raise more concern on e-waste exportation by implementing more strict laws and fines in order to discourage companies that smuggle e-waste to developing countries; but still, the main question is still not answered, what happens to computers when the become obsolete?