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Electronic Waste

2010 December 22
by pwilloquet

As a follow up to the Oct 28 posting on Virtual Footprints and particularly the human and environmental health hazards of the production and disposal of (our beloved?!) computers, I was pleased to hear Terry Gross’s interview last night  with Jim Puckett of the Basil Action Network (BAN) about the export of toxic e-waste to Asia and Africa.

Alongside the looming water crisis that most seem to know little about, even after the recent flurry of  books and documentaries on the subject, this is another one of the dirty little secrets of our high tech culture of convenience and accessibility. At a time when  the Internet is revered as holding the answers  to all our ills by bringing us interconnectivity, community,  infinite amounts of  information, democracy, civic engagement, creativity (and yes, amusement and surveillance), how are we to respond to the toxicity of producing and disposing of this technology? Whose responsibility is it to assure that electronic toxic waste does not find its way to poor countries and communities? Is it the poor and often illiterate folks’s who live in these communities, as one of my students recently suggested after we watched Exporting Harm, a 30 minutes activist eco-documentary produced by BAN? Manufacturer’s? Seller’s? Consumer’s?  Government’s? All of the above?

As consumers, we can start by taking some responsibility for how we dispose of electronics–phones, i-pods, i-pads, computers . . . I think anyone of us using electronics and teaching with electronics needs to address this issue with our students, particularly since the myth of computers being a clean technology is so persistent.  Terry Gross’s piece can be heard at After Dump, What Happens To Electronic Waste?

For information about BAN, the films they produce, and locating an E-Steward near you that recycles computers and electronics responsibly, go to

3 Responses leave one →
  1. srust permalink*
    December 24, 2010

    Happy to report that Next-Step Recycling here in Eugene is listed on the “Pledged” list for those transitioning to certification. However, our other major e-cycler, Sanipac, is not listed so I have emailed them for more information.

    Thanks for a great post. It’s been hard enough convincing people to recycle in the first place and Puckett’s interview really makes you realizing that you always have to follow up and track the entire production process to grasp the scale of the ecological impact of the digital revolution.

    • September 22, 2011

      So that’s the case? Quite a revleaiotn that is.

  2. Elena permalink
    January 10, 2011

    Toxic waste dumping is a critical topic in Italian cinema and in Italy more generally these days–and often what is brought to the fore is precisely this desire to send waste to poor areas, like the Camorra-controlled region of Campania. Although not specifically focused on e-waste, Matteo Garrone’s _Gomorrah_ includes episodes about illegal landfills. There have also been a couple of significant documentaries, including _Biutiful Cauntri_ by Esmeralda Calabria and Andrea D’Ambrosio (2008), and “Toxic Napoli,” which was produced for The implications for food (mozzarella di bufala!) and water systems, among other things, are horrifying.

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