Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Where is "Away"?

When Americans throw away their broken, unwanted electronics and other items, most of us rarely think about where "away" really is.  One broken keyboard here, an obsolete cell phone there, it can't add to much, right?  So, it's just all shipped to the local landfill, which really doesn't take up much space, right?

Wrong.  Multiply your discards by the the millions in the United States, then add the millions from other countries and we have a real problem.  It's called "e-waste" and it doesn't just go "away."

Here is where most of it goes:

E-waste is processed and recycled overseas, mainly in places like India, China, and Pakistan.  According to Greenpeace, "25,000 workers are employed at scrap yards in Delhi alone, where up to 20,000 tons of e-waste is handled each year, 25 percent of this being computers." Processing e-waste is hazardous work.  Electronic components contain many heavy metals and other toxic elements.  Often children are among the workers processing this waste:  

Each time the latest, greatest gadget comes out, we need to really ask ourselves if those new fangled devices are really necessary.  Is your cell phone providing the service you actually need?  Does your computer still have the capability to allow you to conduct your business and personal tasks effectively and efficiently?  If so, why buy a new one?  

This also brings to mind conversations I often hear where people are talking about "our" jobs going overseas.  How many Americans would want the above-mentioned 25,000 plus jobs?  I'll save that topic for another day.

(Photo sources:  www.amoeba.com/blog/2008/01/jamoeblog/the-growing-global-problem-of-e-waste-.html; www.greenpeace.org)

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