Monday, January 12, 2009

Our toxic technology

What would we do without our televisions, computers, iPods, and especially our cell phones?

Life would not be the same. Technology has become essential to modern life.

An increasingly important question, however, is what do we do with all of these toys when we're done playing with them or obtain new ones?

Bryan Walsh, in a Time magazine article, notes that 80% of Americans toss their "obsolete gizmos into the trash .... Every day Americans throw out more than 350,000 cell phones and 130,000 computers, making electronic waste the fastest-growing part of the U.S. garbage stream."

And that is a huge problem, growing ever larger.

These things are full of toxic gunk such as lead and mercury which can and do leak out of landfills to pollute our environment.

We've figured out how to get rid of some of it, though; we just ship it overseas, "where it is stripped and burned with little concern for environmental or human health."

What's really disgusting is that "The U.S. is the only industrialized country that refused to ratify the 19-year-old Basel Convention, an international treaty designed to regulate the export of hazardous waste to developing nations."

Or, as Jim Puckett, founder of Basel Action Network ... an e-waste watchdog" said, "'We're dumping on the rest of the world.'"

There are some actions we can take. Many environmentalists plan to push the Obama administration to ban all e-waste exports. Some manufacturers are taking more responsibility for their products, "reducing toxic metals like mercury and using fewer small pieces of aluminum and glass." Apple is designing their laptop computers so they can be recycled more easily. "Sony has pledged to work only with recyclers that pledge not to export e-waste. And Dell ... recently announced an in-store recycling program with Staples."

You can sell you old cell phone to If it's broken, find out if the manufacturer will take it back to be recycled. You can also find a list of "approved" U.S. recyclers at

Here's a BBC video portraying the problem from a British perspective.

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