Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It's Not Easy Being Green

I read this article by David Pogue on the New York Times web site today. He discusses the "Two-Year Itch," which is the need for Americans to replace small wireless gadgets (i.e. cell phones, digital music player, digital cameras) every two years, only to throw them in the trash. He specifically targets cell phones, and the offers by major corporations to upgrade to bigger and better things after customers' two year contracts expire.

I felt bad while reading this because I know I am guilty of buying new electronics while my last ones still work fine. My last phone worked good enough, but I needed to have an iPhone just to, well, have an iPhone. With Apple and now Google coming out with newer versions of the iPhone and the Android every few months at best, it's hard not to want a better phone.

I don't think the idea that electronics are made to break would surprise anyone. How many cell phones and computers have you had in the last two years? What did you do with it when it broke down? Major corporations make products with the intent of having the product break down within a certain time period. It's more difficult and expensive to replace parts, or try to repair a product, than it is to just buy a newer working model.

But we cannot blame big industries entirely. Our personal wants only hurt the environment. So many do not recycle their old electronics for reuse or resale. We upgrade our cell phones when the older model still works, enforcing the ideals of big corporations to produce, produce, produce. Without taking a stand, we say it's OK to make borderline working electronics. And of course, we don't recycle.

Here's a few facts about the effects our electronics have on the environment:

  • Each year in the United States alone, 3 million tons of e-waste (cell phones, TVs, DVD players, computers, etc...) are thrown away.
  • Improperly handled and poorly made electronics contain PCBs, cadmium, mercury and lead, which are released into the environment. These chemicals are proven to cause cancer, nervous system damage, cell damage and renal failure.
  • In the United States, an estimated 70% of heavy metals in landfills come from e-waste. The EPA estimates that only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled.
There's always room for improvement -- for everyone -- to become more environmentally conscious. I try, but I can always try harder. I hope most people feel that way.

One of my professors in college once played a video called The Story of Stuff. I highly recommend watching to see what happens when we throw out those unwanted items that clutter our lives. There is also a newer (and shorter) version specifically about electronics. It's only between 5-10 minutes long, so please watch! And then go recycle something.

The Story of Electronics

The Story of Stuff

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