E-Wasted: Where Will Your Computer and iPod Go to Die?

Electronic wasteSimran Sethi and Sarah Smarsh are writing a series on the impacts of everyday things. They will be posting previews on Green Options before launching the posts on Huffington Post. Want to know how to green your internet porn (or emailing or iTunes) habit? Check out these tips and a post-mortem of where your computers go to die.

Recently, the world computer population surpassed 1 billion. It’s a legion of artificial intelligence that will never die, at least not while humans are around to see it.

The computer species appears to have a high mortality rate (whether due to the rapid progress of technology or an industry conspiracy to ensure that products must be replaced regularly). They “crash” and “die” in droves, their human counterparts literally kicking them to the curb. But there is no heaven, no place in the clouds, for the cold, hard shell once warmed by electrical currents. Once it has left your desk, your computer doesn’t disappear. In a sense, it lives on.

Each year, ten million computers land in the toxic graves that are landfills. Nestled among other CPUs and laptops and monitors, their lifeblood oozes out, leaking hazardous materials such as lead into our earth and water sources. Like many products we discard, defunct computers are dead to us but remain a force with which the earth must reckon.

Despite the eco-warning, we’re not trying to take away anyone’s computer. To paraphrase a line that recently amused us in the 1946 film noir gem The Postman Always Rings Twice , “Stealing a man’s wife, that’s nothing. But stealing his computer, that’s larceny.” (We’re substituting “computer” for “car,” perhaps an apt update on the ultimate symbol of modern freedom and access.)

Read more at the Huffington Post.

Thanks to the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Lacey Johnston for research assistance.

  1. Sarah Smarsh

    Eddy, thanks for the tip! And Sarah, what a fantastic and thorough post on e-waste recycling (or lack thereof)– The overarching theme, that greater infrastructure is needed, is one that applies to so many “stuffs.” Thanks much for reading.

  2. Dave C.

    How’s this for convenient, every weekend at my local farmer’s market, there’s a small stand where I can donate my old cell phones and small electronics. Not that inherently lazy (I am actually), but convenience coupled with responsibility is always a good thing.

  3. Jeff McIntire-Strasburg

    Dave — I think that’s critical: we’ve seen with all kinds of recycling that convenience makes a real difference (and I wasn’t that good about standard aluminum and paper recycling until curbside service became available). Many, many opportunities available here for the more entrepreneurial among us.

  4. Isbel Ingham

    It is certainly imperative that electronics are recycled. That said, prolonging their use is even more important. We all know that consumer culture tells us we need the latest and greatest as soon as it’s on the market. However, consider that continuing to use your computer just one more year after you’ve considered buying a new one is equivalent to keeping a car off the road for 6 months.

  5. Simran

    You are absolutely right, Isbel. Built in obsolescence is off the hook and the only people who can put a stop to it are we the consumers. (Well designers, too but what I am saying is we have to demand better quality and longer lives out of our products.) How many of you have the new iPhone? Tell me why and let’s a dialog going. ..

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