We throw out a lot of junk. Some of it peacefully decomposes without any further impact on the environment but some of it is quite toxic. One particular category is both highly toxic and, ironically, full of valuable materials: junked technical gear, or e-waste. That gives us two good reasons to dispose of it as thoughtfully as possible. An excellent article on Gizmodo begins:
The brand new tablet/smartphone/GPU you grabbed last week is the cat’s meow. But what happens to it – or to any of the devices you once treasured- when you don’t want or need them anymore? Where do they go? Is there a reliable, “green” way to dispose of them? And hey, does one extra electronic gadget in a landfill really put the big hurt on the environment?
Let’s start simple by looking at one of today’s most ubiquitous electronic gadgets, the mobile phone or smart phone. … The mobile phone is far from green. Indeed, it houses a lot of stuff you certainly wouldn’t want to sprinkle on your cereal. Stuff like copper, gold, lead, nickel, antimony, zinc, beryllium, tantalum, mercury, arsenic, and coltan (more on coltan in a moment), among others.
There’s a whole bunch of stuff not to like about the way we deal with our old and unloved electronics. We toss way too much of it. We recycle some of it, but even then the machinery behind that recycling is flawed and we’re only beginning to understand the dangers that come from the hazardous materials that lay inside. Changes are afoot, but the evidence of an apathetic past and present, like the e-waste itself, is piling up.
And let’s not forget – not all unused products are immediately given the heave-ho. Consumers tend to stockpile stuff they don’t use any longer. Admit it – how many old game consoles or mobile phones or laptops or TVs or cameras or CD players, Walkmans, record players, spare monitors are sitting around your house right now because you’ll either use them again one day (fat chance), or because you just don’t know what to do about it?
That last paragraph describes my position so well that they must have peered into my cupboard!
Seriously, disposing of old tech stuff without sending it straight to landfill can be difficult, especially if you’re outside the big cities. Last time I tried, I rang and emailed around to try to do the right thing. Our only computer recycler wouldn’t take anything that wasn’t relatively new and commercial-grade; no city council department could help; local waste recyclers didn’t take e-waste; and Brisbane e-waste recyclers didn’t have any way to get my junk from here to there.
Right now, people in Townsville have a one-off chance to do the right thing with their techno-rubble, since a Brisbane company is coming to us for one day: Buyequip is holding another
Electronic Waste Recyclathon
at 3 – 7 Macrossan St, South Townsville,
between 9.00 and 3.00 on September 7, 2012.
On the day, they will be accepting the following electronic waste:
- Computers – laptop and desktop
- Monitors – LCD and CRT
- Printers and scanners
- Computer peripherals – power supplies, networking equipment, cables, etc.
- Telephones and mobile phones (but not televisions or whitegoods)
Buyequip is an award winning End of Life IT Services organisation dedicated to preventing electronic waste entering our landfills. More than 98% of the materials collected on the day will be diverted from the landfill waste stream.
If you are keen to attend, please email Suzie Bowen firstname.lastname@example.org or call her on 0488 331 662 . They look forward to seeing you on the day!
The Gizmodo article recommends a Greenpeace study [Edit: updated here in 2017] that ranks the most dominant tech producers in terms of their environmental footprint.
The day came, and I took a couple of boxes of our e-waste down to South Townsville. The operation there was simplicity itself: one container on a vacant block, two people, a clipboard so people could leave their names and contact info (presumably for next time). By the time I arrived, the container was about half full and there were boxes on the grass beside it, waiting to be stacked inside.