Communities and Businesses Take Interest in E-waste

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

Guide to Green Electronics

18 top manufacturers are ranked according to their policies on toxic chemicals, recycling and climate change.

Certain topics, such as electronic waste and disposal, are generally assumed to be pretty important. However, they are always with us and, ironically, tend to fade into the background. They are issues that hide in plain sight.

But it is important to think about them every once in a while. The good news about the fight against e-waste is that awareness -- if not front-page news -- is rising, and communities appear to be taking an interest. A Google or Bing search generates a tremendous number of local news about computer drop-offs and similar events. In my community, I can pack up old computers and other paraphernalia and dump it-in a proper receptacle, of course-every Sunday afternoon.

The good news is not just anecdotal. Last week, Alcoa announced a $10 million investment in Electronics Recyclers International. It is important to keep this momentum moving. The massive number of devices, chargers and batteries continues to escalate. The good efforts of local communities, vendors, third parties and, of course, end users will be necessary just to keep pace with the onslaught of dangerous detritus.

On a related but subtly different note, this Q&A at SmartPlanet covers an environmental idea that is too cool not to include. Electronic devices come, of course, in boxes and are protected by Styrofoam or some other shock-absorbent material. Much of that ends up in landfills and, beyond the paper elements, takes years to degrade.

Evocative Design, a company headquartered on an island in the Hudson River near Albany, N.Y., has come up with packing materials that degrade relatively quickly. There is one other unique element about the products: They are alive. EvoCradle now is used to ship furniture. A computer version is expected in a few weeks. Researchers have used DNA and other organic materials for computers, though not yet commercially. Now, the packaging will go even further, says CEO and Co-founder Eben Bayer:

We have a plastic that's alive-a living polymer. Our vision is to replace plastics where ever they don't make sense, which could even be your computer or TV.

In Bayer's vision, much of the garbage by the roadside will slowly fade away:

You can think of it as being biocompatible with our planet. But if this material gets put in your garden or on the side of the road, it starts breaking down like a seed husk within three months to a year. It's getting broken into biocompatible stuff. It'll help improve the soil in your area.

There is other good news. Some of it is from California which, for all the wisecracks made about it, is way out ahead on environmental issues such as e-waste. This column on The San Diego Union-Tribune's website describes what the state has done since the Electronic Waste Recycling Act became law in 2003: Pollution has been avoided and green jobs created.

Seat belts probably were a hot-button item way back when. Today, however, nobody talks about them. They just automatically put them on when they get into a car. Perhaps that same transition -- from headlines to quiet and no less effective activity -- is happening in the e-waste sector.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Mar 9, 2011 3:49 PM Chris Anthony Chris Anthony  says:

If you really want to have a successful and serious campaign then there is one person you cannot miss. I am talking about the world renowned e-waste campaigner called Mike Anane, he is a Ghanaian and he has been working on the illegal e-waste shipments and dumping in Ghana for almost a decade now. He has the facts, the documentation the videos and photos and in fact he spends most of his time at the e-waste dumps in Ghana or chasing container loads of e-waste sent through the ports in Ghana from Europe Canada and the US. You might call him the unknown hero or uncelebrated hero but Mike is indisputably the man behind the global efforts to check e-waste dumping, indeed he started it all and this is well documented. Just send him a mail or google his name Mike Anane. He helped me to work on my masters thesis on e-waste and he is simply amazing. 

Mar 10, 2011 1:28 PM Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk  says: in response to Chris Anthony

Thanks, Chris. Sounds like he is doing good work.


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