Sunday, November 9, 2008

60 Minutes story on Electronic Waste...

Photo source: (direct link via caption below)
Chinese child amongst a pile of wires and electronic waste or e-waste. According to, children in China can often be found dismantling e-waste though it contains hazardous chemicals damaging to their health.

Video from 60 Minutes Follows The Trail Of Toxic E-Waste, Illegally Shipped From The U.S. To China

I was watching 60 Minutes on CBS this evening and one of their stories caught my attention. It's about E-Waste or electronic waste from America's TVs, computers and other electronic devices being sent to China. This is a troubling issue because as workers in China in scrapyards work to get useful scrap metal from these electronics, the E-waste's toxic materials (i.e. lead) pollute their environment and are detrimental to their health.

There was a clip during the segment with a Chinese worker who showed his burnt hands from working with the e-waste. Though his work is detrimental to his health, he said that he'll still continue doing the work because of the money. 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley relayed this back to Jim Puckett, founder of Basel Action Network, a watchdog group working to stop this sort of thing from happening (rich countries dumping toxic waste on poor ones). Puckett said that it shouldn't have to come down to a choice between being destitute (which is the reason these workers do this) and having your health threatened.

One statistic that puts the e-waste issue into perspective: "Well, we throw out about 130,000 computers every day in the United States," according to Allen Hershkowitz, a senior scientist and authority on waste management at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

This story got me thinking about how computers are being recycled here at Dominican. In the last few years at Dominican, new computers have replaced old (most recently in the Tech Center with the latest Macs) and it just goes to show how fast technology is moving - and something has to give. According to Hershkowitz, e-waste "is the fastest-growing component of the municipal waste stream worldwide." It is hard to deny that statement as even at Dominican, the drive to keep up with technology is shown through the replacement of computers.

When I was looking at colleges to attend, my parents and I visited Lake Forest College, where their library was being renovated. My parents commented that this looked to be a trend for colleges - to improve their library facilities. And with us being in the electronic age, this doesn't mean adding more books, but adding more computers and moving the card catalog to an online database. I remember that when I first started high school, there was a small enclosed area with computers. By the end of my senior year there, the number of computers had increased and where there were once book shelves full of books, rows of computers took its place.

Even if old computers at Dominican are being moved to other locations, what happens when more new computers come in and the old computers need to moved out for good? I've heard from quite a few other students that we pretty much have the same number of computers - they're just newer.

I'd like to think that Dominican is insuring that computers are recycled properly and not sent to other countries to be dismantled by destitute workers in a toxic working and living environment.
"We have a situation where we have 21st century toxics being managed in a 17th century environment," according to Hershkowitz in the 60 Minutes story. Some of the ways that the e-waste is dismantled is more in a medieval fashion than using 21st century technologies according to the video.

After seeing this story, I could not agree more with the statement uttered during the story about e-waste: it's the "dirty little secret of the electronic age."

No comments:

Post a Comment