November 09, 2010 by Steven Castle
Annie Leonard is at it again. The creator of the viral video The Story of Stuff is targeting electronics in her latest Internet short, The Story of Electronics. The eight-minute video shows how many of our gadgets and gear contain toxic chemicals and are “recycled” by being shipped to third-world countries where they are irresponsibly dismantled and dangerously discarded.
No news there. We’ve produced numerous reports on that. Produced in conjunction with the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, The Story of Electronics is more a call for “extended producer responsibility,” or product takeback, laws that place the burden on electronics manufacturers for the collection and recycling of unwanted electronics.
Producer responsibility laws have been passed in 22 states and New York City. You can see here which states have such laws. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC) filed a lawsuit against the New York City law, which was dismissed this June. To its credit, the CEA does have information on electronics recycling at its Digital Tips website. And some companies are voluntarily taking responsibility for recycling their electronics. The Electronics TakeBack Coalition recently released a report card for manufacturers’ recycling efforts.
In The Story of Electronics, Leonard calls the electronics manufacturing philosophy “design for the dump,” and says that 25 million tons of e-waste is produced each year, often containing toxic components such as lead, cadmium, PVC and brominated flame retardants. “Today’s electronics are hard to upgrade, easy to break and hard to repair,” she says in the video. “Computers, cell phones and TVs are just waiting to release all these toxins when we throw them away.”
Though strides have been made in recent years to make electronics more recyclable, Leonard and others call for the electronics industry to do much more—and adopt a “Green” Moore’s Law, to cut the use of toxic chemicals in electronics every 18 months. (Moore’s Law states that computer processing power will double every 18 months.)
The Story of Stuff has garnered over 12 million Internet views and raised awareness of the consequences of excessive material consumption. We’re curious to see how this one does, and if it has an effect on further “greening” the consumer electronics industry. And as Leonard herself admits, we all love our electronics. We’re sure not going to give them up. Though it would be nice if they were greener and more sustainable.
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates
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