Do You Know Where Your Computer Monitor Goes When it Dies?

Today is Sunday and all across America newspapers and circulars tout the latest and greatest electronic gadgetry at low enough prices to hopefully bring us out to buy them. MP3 players, HD televisions, printers, scanners, cell phones, PDA’s, home video games, you name it, they’ll sell it, and we are all supposed to want it.

While the Sunday sales may save a few bucks across the counter, they don’t put a dent in the cost on down the line these products create. As you may have guessed, I’m talking about electronic waste, or e-waste as it is better known. Where do the 130,000 computers thrown out every day in this country end up? How about the 100,000,000 cell phones we toss every year? Who deals with them and how does it affect them, and us?

Below is the answer. An excellent piece by 60 Minutes entitled The Wasteland, it investigates the Chinese city of Guiyu where some of Americas e-waste ends up. Scientific tests have shown Guiyu to have the highest levels of dioxin in the world and that 7 out of 10 of the cities children have too much lead in their bodies. The reason for this is simple. The e-waste that ends up in Guiyu is not cleanly dismantled in some high tech shop, but melted down in fields and burned by farmers who make $8 a day because they can no longer farm their land. It is truly a crime and sadly one in which we are complicit.

If the fact that a place like this exists is not enough for you, fear not, there’s more. The piece also investigates a recycling company in Denver. As 60 Minutes showed, their claims to deal with all materials on site were false, and in fact, they were cited for shipping CRT monitors to China, something which is illegal due to the high amounts of lead the units contain. And this was a reputable firm that had the city contract no less!

So what’s a good greenie to do? I don’t mean to be depressing, but it really does get you down. I want to do the right thing, want to make sure all of my e-waste is taken care of in an environmentally friendly manner, but unless I quit my job and follow the trail I leave until every last molecule is accounted for, I can’t be sure.

The truth is, we don’t know what happens when these items leave our hands and in fact, have no control over who or what they harm. But we can control what we send out there. We can control what we buy and how. We can make the decision that the latest and greatest turnip twaddler may not be something we really need and that it is only going to make us happy until the next latest and greatest twaddler comes along. We can buy used instead of buying new. We can care for the few products we do deem necessary and use them longer. We can complain to companies that discontinue support on older products and let them know that we will not buy from them again. We can do a little work and ascertain, as best we can, that the e-waste facilities we visit are doing what’s right. And we can teach our children by example and show them that not buying the latest and greatest may not only not be that bad, but in fact may be much better.

Finally, we can write our elected leaders, send them pieces like The Wasteland, and ask them to pass legislation to fix the e-waste problems we are creating. Perhaps we will see a day where we force ourselves to deal with this problem by adding an extra fee on the price of a gadget that is designed to pay for its safe disposal. Sort of like the deposit on a can of soda. You buy a gadget and pay a small fee that is refunded only when the item is returned to the company that made it. If you use it till it dies, you get the deposit back. If you sell it used, the buyer pays you that fee, and gets their refund when they deliver it back to its birthplace. The companies then, through oversight and transparency, would be responsible for dismantling them safely, reusing as much as possible, and dealing with what’s leftover in an environmentally sensitive manner.

Of course what I’m talking about is Cradle to Cradle thinking and there are much smarter folks who have explained this better than I. My point though is this. These companies only make these things because we buy them. We buy these things because we think we need them. I want a new turnip twadller, but am I really ok stepping into that cycle if it means some kid in China has no chance at a healthy future? I don’t know about you, but for me, the answer is no. I have the power to change this and that power lies in the choices I make.

Check out the video. Connect the dots. Make some noise.

Dave Chameides is a filmmaker and environmental educator. His website and newsletter are designed to inspire thought and dialogue on environmental solutions and revolve around the idea that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. “Give people the facts, and they’ll do the right thing.”

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Jan Roset
Janet Roset7 years ago

What about the e-stewards program for recycling electronic products? I heard about this program on an NPR recently. It requires companies to get certified and depose of waste in a safe manner. Check online for

Prometeus O.
Past Member 7 years ago

Now i know ! I hope the brands which are producing them will take initiative and recycle those after users are done with them.

buy links

Heather B.
Past Member 7 years ago

Excellent article. Thanks.

Tiga Forest
Tiga Forest8 years ago

The Blind Center of Nevada, 1001 N. Bruce St., Las Vegas, NV 89101 accepts computers, laptops, cell phones, printers, copiers, almost any type of electronics except for TVs, for recycling. They repair the computers that can be fixed, and sell them on eBay to support the Blind Center of Nevada. They will also completely erase hard drives for a small fee. This recycling service employs the blind and visually impaired. So, people in southern Nevada, bring your old unwanted computers and electronics to the above address. Tel: 642-6000.

Past Member
Daniel N8 years ago

Thank you soooo much for talking about how our spending habits are affecting people in other countries. So few seem to ever think about this. And I have never seen an article about what happens in other countries to MAKE the electronics in the first place. Do you know about what happens in order to extract the minerals that go into computers and ipods and cell phones? Google the mineral Coltan. We have no idea how we are destroying other lives to buy a cell phone.

Rosa R.
Rosa R8 years ago

That's so unfortunate.Wow. Unfortunately, there seem to be quite a few people who are still too lazy too care, and those that care and take a little more time, "may" be trying to do the right thing, but having such companies mislead them.

I also have read somewhere that "Kodak" was discovered many years ago to do the same to an impoverished Central American country (Nicaragua) where their hazardous materials and waste was dumped into one of their lakes (with the permission and selling "right" to do so by some Nicaraguan leaders, or head-personnel of some sort). That lake is now extremely polluted. Terrible. I truly wish, as I'm sure most of you out there do, that yet more people cared and took more action (like calling companies up and asking them, for recycled or recyclable products/materials).

There is actually recyclable and biodegradable plastic out there, that can actually be used for their products, and I don't understand why they don't???? Call these companies and I agree with most, look at what you buy! Some shows like on PlanetGreen may help, such as just ONE example, with Bill Nigh who explains where things come from and how they affect us, AWESOME show!and I just turned 27! But I get so excited about these things and learning about these things! thanks for reading! Have a great day to all!

Carol H.
Past Member 8 years ago

It is really sad what we are doing to Mother Earth soon he will take back what he gave us for free.
When we lose everything God gave us we will nobody to thank but ourselves and that is a fact.
If you remember The Bible he said the next time earth will be covered with fire and not water but I guess people who want to line their pockets with money never read The Bible or if they did they forgot that part and look what is going around the United States today fires are everywhere that are taking lives and innocent animals and that is a fact.

Alex R.
Alex R8 years ago

Once again, "Voting With Your Pocketbook" is sage advice. Don't constantly "keep up with the Jones'". The Earth is suffering due to our materialistic inclinations. I'm hopeful the so-called Economic Downturn will force folks to think twice about what they need vs. what they want. It's entirely possible to live a simpler life and to do with less. Try it!

Jerry Lafferty
Jerry Lafferty8 years ago

Kate say,s
I also think government involvement will be crucial to making any responsible solution happen and so think lobbying our representatives and drawing their attention to the issue is a key step to solving this problem.

The government gave them this contract to do this and also gave them more contracts for recycling. The U.S. ( out of sight out of mind)

Jerry Lafferty
Jerry Lafferty8 years ago

The price of civilization! Are we really civilized??
I see nothing , i hear nothing , i know nothing!!!
The law say's ignorance is no excuse.
I say to you.... Now you are informed!!