August 24, 2010

Dumping Digital Trash


While studying abroad two years ago, I loaned a stateside friend my television.

I never saw the 14-incher again.

So maybe I should have been thankful when, a month ago, my brother donated to me a 27-inch gem. Sadly, its depth was about the same dimension—a behemoth in this age of flat screens. I lugged the cube to an Arc thrift store in hopes that someone else could sacrifice the space.

But what if no one can? I’m assuming Arc stows things for a finite time. Then where do the “ancient” devices go? Ideally, it wouldn’t clank into place atop a landfill peak. But I didn’t make the inquiry. The fate of that box of metal, plastic and glass is a mystery.

(Yes, I could go back and ask Arc. But what follows is my point.)

What other electronic goodies have I—you—thrown away lately, or are planning to soon? Maybe you’re ditching your five-year-old iPod since it looks like you drag it from your car’s bumper. Oh, and that fresh smartphone makes your Internet-less one look like a punk.

A hefty but intriguing article from PBS Media Shift looks at the impending (well, already worrisome) overflow of e-waste as our collective craving for digital media inflates. (It’s so delicious—Twitter gave me the PBS heads-up.) Technological advances, as rapid as they are, will transcend what was “now” with what’s just slightly more, uh, now. We’re a growing sect of addicts tweaking for the fastest information and the most extreme connectedness.

Yet our paperless drug doesn’t inherently yield sustainability. A market analyst firm said that of the 53 tons of e-waste procured around the globe in 2009, a slim 13 percent was recycled. As the PBS article notes, there aren’t yet any true standards to which companies and manufacturers must adhere for the creation and disposal of their products. (Recycling aside: Ponder the energy and resources that go into bringing our “babies” into existence.) Some groups have taken it upon themselves to make ostensibly positive strides. The Apple on which I type boasts the number-five slot on the Greanpeace Greener Electronics rankings.

Although some states have enacted laws mandating e-recycling (not Colorado), consider being a bit more conscious of the pass-along destination of your outdated devices. You can be that first filter blocking the permeation of old, toxic MP3s into wasteyards. Ask the question of Arc that I didn’t; politely challenge/encourage them if the answer doesn’t satisfy. If your new printer cartridge comes with a hopefully-postage-paid recycling bag for the former one, use it. Better, how about sending it to a cool project like this Australian bicycle path made of empty inks?

Or simply hoard the Zune, or whatever the gadget(s) might be. Show your grandkids how cool you once were while they scoff at you, riding away on these.

Ryan Arnold



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