If you received a new electronic gadget as a holiday present, how can you make sure your old one won’t contribute to the 2.4 million tons of electronic waste the Environmental Protection Agency estimates we throw away every year? Green Citizen, a San Francisco-based company that collects, disassembles and disposes of old electronics, is expecting to amass some 700,000 pounds of e-waste from this holiday season, more than in previous years.
The simple reason, an article in Bloomberg notes, is our seemingly insatiable need to buy “the latest” version of this or that gadget. Technology and other companies are certainly doing their best to churn out new and newer generations of products with (they say) more features — better features! – so that old devices with nary a nick or scratch are discarded.
Even if we do recycle electronic devices, it is too often the case that they are not done so responsibly. Rather, 80 percent of our electronic waste is sent overseas via container ships to Asia, Africa and elsewhere. As the Electronics Take Back Coalition explains, our old computers, cell phones and televisions are then taken apart by workers who earn very little for dangerous work that exposes them to toxic dust, poisonous fumes and more. Local environments also suffer untold damages as acid and residue from heavy metals are dumped into rivers and landfills.
In contrast, Green Citizen collects discarded electronic devices and has technicians examine them. Those that can be fixed are repaired and resold on eBay; Green Citizen company’s chief, James Kao, tells Bloomberg that the company generates 21 percent of its revenue from reselling devices. Workers take apart other devices and remove circuit boards, plastic, glass and other materials. Much of these are then broken down at another facility and resold to companies that use recycled materials.
While sorting bits of plastic and other materials might sound like the height of tedium, it involves the kind of precise, repetitive tasks that some individuals with some disabilities — yes, I am thinking of my teenage autistic son Charlie who has lots of cognitive challenges but a real eye for detail and a preference for routine– excel at. I’m not sure of the feasibility of individuals with disabilities doing such work, but I’m always on the lookout for possible employment ideas for Charlie that would best utilize his strengths.
The desire for possessing the newest version of this or that has created new problems for us. It is possible to address and even solve these not only in ways that are sustainable but that can also create meaningful employment — that can do what’s best for the earth and make a difference in people’s lives, too.
That could be a win in more ways than one.
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