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Annie Leonard: The Story of Electronics

by Bhavani Prakash


Annie Leonard, creator of a series of informative animations, The Story of Stuff, The Story of Bottled Water, The Story of Cosmetics and The Story of Cap & Trade has just released the latest one taking the electronics industry to task:  The Story of Electronics. It shows the negative impact of the “designing for the dump” mentionality that exposes workers to toxic inputs, and people in developing countries like Nigeria and India to toxic e-waste.

Good Magazine came out with an interesting infographic recently.  E-waste is piling up at an incredible 40 million tons a year. You may click here for a larger picture.

According to the book written by Annie Leonard “The Story of Stuff” “e-waste is increasing three times faster than other municipal waste and is packed with hazardous metals and chemicals.  The Electronics Take Back Coalition says the 5 common sources and reasons for e-waste are cell phone upgrades, digital TV conversions, software upgrades, batteries and disposable printers.

Annie Leonard’s fervent plea in the Huffington Post is for the Electronics Industry to “Make ‘Em Safe, Make ‘Em Last, Take ‘Em Back. She says:

“In the U.S. we throw away about 400 million electronic gadgets each year — more than one per person. Only about 20 percent of e-waste in the U.S. is collected for recycling; the rest goes to landfills and incinerators where the toxics leach out to contaminate our air, water and communities.

Investigations have found that 50 to 80 percent of this stuff is shipped overseas to Asia and Africa where it is broken apart by workers to extract the small bits of valuable metals. In addition to those pieces of gold and copper, today’s electronics routinely contain toxic chemicals like lead, mercury, PVC, chlorine, and bromines that end up poisoning workers and their communities in the importing country.”

She makes a call for “a green ‘race to the top’ where designers compete to make long-lasting, toxic-free products that are fully and easily recyclable.”  Manufacturers should design for disassembly right at the outset, so they can put in quality materials, which will come back to them at the end-of-life of a product.

This is increasingly important with the impending materials crisis which has provoked countries like China to impose restrictions on exports of rare earths, used heavily in the electronics industry. The mining of some metals like Coltan is deeply intertwined with civil conflict in the Congo Basin.  With that kind of far reaching impact that mining of metals for electronic products has, the electronics industry should take greater responsibility towards recycling and conserving of scarce resources.

We don’t have to be silent consumers. There are a lot of suggestions on the “What You Can Do” section of the Story of Electronics website, but most of the agencies mentioned relate to the US.

If you’re buying electronics, support manufacturers who are rated higher in Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics.

We can stick with our gadgets a little longer without rushing out for the latest designs.

Further links you may be interested in:

EWTT:  Michael Braungart: Do Good, Not Less Bad (On Cradle-to-Cradle design)
EWTT:  Janet Unruh: Recycle Everything : Why We Must, How We Can
Urban Mining: China considering rare earths strategic reserves

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Posted by on Nov 10 2010. Filed under Behaviour Change, Electronics and E-Waste, Sustainable Growth/Development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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