“The Effluent of the Affluent” – by Rebecca Mayer

I spend a good amount of time on my laptop.  I’m in grad school; I write stories.  This requires hours of research.  So when my computer began running slowly, I took it as a minor emergency.

Ivan, the computer repairman, said “You need a new one.”  And then he laughed, apparently because he’s never seen such a small hard drive.  Not appreciating computer humor, I told him it would be better if he could fix my machine.

Computers and other electronics in landfills are basically bad news.  An article on Salon.com by Elizabeth Grossman says, “Split open, the electronics release a stew of toxic materials — among them beryllium, cadmium, lead, mercury and flame retardants — that can accumulate in human blood and disrupt the body’s hormonal balance.”

To summarize the rest of the article – the US and Europe illegally ship over 50% of their recycled computers to China and other developing companies, where only a fraction of the parts are actually recycled.  Most become toxic waste, rendering the water supply in these rural, poverty-stricken areas undrinkable, and posing health threats to the low-wage workers.

Read the whole article – Where Computers Go to Die

The EPA estimates that 3/4ths of electronics end up in landfills.  China and other developing countries often welcome the tons of e-waste arriving on their shores because of the valuable substances that can be extracted during the recycling process – like copper, lead, silicon, nickel and gold.  A mobile phone, for example, is 19 percent copper and eight percent iron.

Track the electronic waste trail.

Ivan, computer repair guy extraordinaire, ran the numbers to fix my computer.  Because I’m on a grad school budget, I have no choice but to spend less money on a newer, faster computer.  One must be practical.  But what to do with the old one?

Here are some choices I’m considering:

1.  Donate laptop to Haiti earthquake survivors.  (The laptop is still functional, especially with certain large programs removed to make it run faster, and the organization will even send me a prepaid shipping envelope.)

2.  Recycle through my computer manufacturer. 

3.  Utilize the following list of resources to donate or recycle my laptop responsibly.

Just a few moments of research, and I’m armed with such easy alternatives to throwing my computer in the dumpster out back, or even recycling it and not knowing where it might be headed.  

Now, what to do with the box of old cell phones sitting on my shelf…

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About bagitmovie

Bag It is a documentary film following the world wide use of plastic bags, plastic's impact on the environment and human health.
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