EWaste – Part I

Posted January 3rd, 2011 by Nanette Heffernan. Comment (1).

I visited e-Recycling of California, in Hayward today hoping to garner a few circuit boards for my book. Russ Caswell was incredible. He opened my eyes to the issues around the fastest growing segment of trash today…electronic waste. In short, it’s horrific and the scary part is we have no idea what the long-term implications of this toxic addiction will cost us…as a species. There I was, standing in the middle of their 75,000 square foot warehouse, surrounded by rows of work stations where employees monotonously disassemble last years discarded technology to make room for newer, faster, better computers, monitors, key boards, cell phones, and printers. The perimeters were lined with row after row of e-waste coffins. Pallets stacked double high, shrink wrapped with myriad plastic, circuit boards, aluminum, wire, copper, glass, and CRT tubes.  Some, like the CRT tubes, were destined for yet other dismantlers, while the rest will end up in undisclosed recycling locations across the globe to be reissued as next Christmas’ must have electronic gadget…hopefully not in a landfill or burned in the alleys of Guiyu. There it was, smacking me in the face, America’s addiction to stuff.

OK, so I’m walking with Russ, he’s talking, I’m writing feverishly and asking every question that pops into my head when I was stopped cold. “How much inventory would you say you have in your warehouse at this moment in time, Russ?” “About 2 to 3 weeks,” he says matter-of-factly. “But imagine,” he continues, “All of this used to go to landfill.”  Think about that. Let’s say you have a 3,500 square foot, single story house located on a block with 20 others just like it. Now imagine all 21 houses filled, to the ceiling, with discarded computers and their accessories. A convoy of trucks comes, takes it all “away”, and 3 weeks later it’s full again. Now imagine that a similar development existed in every major community across the United States. There’s no way to spin that, it’s simply disgusting. This is America’s greedy behavior at it’s best.

“Well, at least it’s being recycled,” you say. WRONG! Sorry, but that’s just justification to continue our obsessive addiction with stuff. The truth is we don’t produce any more trash today than we did years ago. The difference is the type of trash we produce today. In the 30’s our trash consisted of paper, food, and other biodegradable products, versus the reservoirs of toxins and plastics we generate today. In addition, years ago we reused as much as possible. Old clothing was made into rags or quilts. Glass jars were saved for preserves. Unfortunately, today we have reached a tipping point. We will never be able to significantly reduce the amount of trash we generate or natural resources we consume by recycling alone. The answer is to not make the trash in the first place. Period.

Next post we’ll discuss the hazardous side to e-waste. By the way, you may want to think twice about eating fish until you read it.


One response to “EWaste – Part I”

  1. Crunchy Wisdom − E-Waste Debate

    […] Heffernan, “E-Waste – Part I”, Crunchy Wisdom, January 3, […]

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