Why E-Cycling Matters:
Part One

What is this thing called e-cycling? Is it just another hippie crusade? Well, actually, it is  way more important than that. It affects everything from the environment to unemployment numbers to wars in developing countries. Sounds heavy, right?

FreeImages.com/Goran Ocokoljic

The amount of electronics in landfills has been growing since the late 1990s. Yes, there were electronics in every household in the 70s and 80s, but we had a different mindset then. Our electronics were valuable. We didn't just throw them out at the first sign of wear. If a newer, swankier model came out and we had the money to purchase it, the old device was handed down to a friend or family member or even kept as a backup.

Something shifted along the way. We became blind consumers. Our computers and electronic devices began improving in leaps and bounds. Financially, most people were doing quite well and had money to spend on the “latest and greatest”.....whatever caught their eye. Marketing was king. 

Our cell phones got smaller and smaller and began to do things we never dreamed of.  Then came the smart phone. We could now use the Internet on our phone and people got sucked into even more marketing ploys to convince them they needed newer and shinier things.

Then the bottom dropped out....

The “housing bubble” popped and a whole lot of other dominoes fell. This left many Americans without jobs or at the very least, a lot less money in their pockets. This should have put a damper on our consumption of new electronics. However, the word from on high was let's get people spending again so we can make new jobs and rebuild our economy. Sounds good, but it didn't work like that.

In the last seven years since the Great Recession, we find ourselves in a sticky place.  Some of the top producers of electronics have devised a system that convinces consumers to opt into a long-term service plan. Basically, it boils down to a lease situation. The consumer pays monthly for their device and when it breaks, they must return it to the manufacturer for repair or replacement. This has led to a flood of electronic devices on the market and a need for e-cycling.

This all sounds great to many but let me show you the dark side of this arrangement.

We now have a society of consumers, not owners.

  • Owners take pride in their purchases. They know how to use their products carefully and how to extend the life and usefulness of their purchases.
  • Consumers take, dispose, and repeat. Adding to the massive landfills found all over the world. Many of these landfills contain toxic materials that leach into the soil such as mercury, arsenic and lead. There are many more than I can list here including man-made toxins.

The rare earth metals used in electronics often come from countries where health and safety are not an issue or are difficult to monitor. Indonesia has been the world's largest supplier of tin. Tin is used in solder which binds electronic components together. Many men, women and children die every year in tin mining accidents. As the Indonesian government has tried to control the tin mining industry, smuggling has only grown.

Three of the four conflict materials listed in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 are regularly used in electronics. While some companies are trying to stay above-board in their purchase of these materials, many elect to work with conflict nations to insure cheaper products. The purchase of these conflict materials from smugglers perpetuates the hold of warlords in developing countries.

What Can E-Cycling do to Help?

Next, in Part Two of this article I will address the unemployment factor of e-waste and how e-cycling can help.

Why E-Cycling Matters: Part Two - Death of a Repairman

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