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e-Waste and Consumption Factor

No Impact Man brought Intro 104 to my attention today.  It's a bill that would require electronics manufacturers to provide "end of life management" for their products in New York City.   Ideally, such a bill would encourage the re-design of products so that they contain fewer toxic chemicals and elements that are easier to recycle.  As it is written, computer and other electronics companies will work with the Department of Sanitation to establish programs in NYC to reduce the amount of nasty e-waste ending up in New York's (really Pennsylvania's, Ohio's, and other states') landfills and Newark's incinerator.  As you may or may not know, e-waste is the largest-growing portion of NYC's waste stream, evidenced by the CRT monitors on the sidewalks in nearly every neighborhood.

Intro 104 seems like excellent legislation until I realize that it means, at least in the short term, that the export of e-waste to developing nations - which is standard and largely unregulated - would increase by a giant factor.  This just makes non-Americans sick and pollutes non-American land, because labor and land "cost less" in other places.  In order to get electronics manufacturers to seriously think about source reduction, the pressure has to come from all sides: legislation like this that speaks for the consumer, taking the burden of recycling off of him/her - as well as legislation that controls cheap overseas dumping and legislation that limits "recycling" (actually downcycling) in favor of developing more sustainable manufacturing methods.  That's a lot of legislation!  Still, the bill appears to represent a start; you can take action in the following ways: 

Read an NYT opinion piece in favor of it.

Read an argument made by the councilmember proposing Intro 104.

Read the entire bill. 

Tell Bloomberg you "support Intro 104" and ask that it be moved forward. 

Take your e-waste to Union Square this Sun, Jan. 6, 10 AM - 4PM.  

Work with WeRecycle! (Mt. Vernon, NY), a member of the Basel Action Network (BAN), to ensure the humane and ecological recycling of your e-waste.


Jared Diamond's Jan 2 "What's Your Consumption Factor?" Op-Ed in the New York Times is getting emailed and posted all over the place.  I'm glad he's feeling "cautiously optimistic" about tackling our consumption, population, and technology problems, and spreading the consumption message to a wide audience (though I think he's preaching to the choir a bit).  I would like, however, to comment on a little theme of the piece that goes unexplored.

Diamond asserts, "people who consume little want to enjoy the high-consumption lifestyle. Governments of developing countries make an increase in living standards a primary goal of national policy." Later, he says, "we often promise developing countries that if they will only adopt good policies — for example, institute honest government and a free-market economy — they, too, will be able to enjoy a first-world lifestyle. This promise is impossible, a cruel hoax: we are having difficulty supporting a first-world lifestyle even now for only one billion people."  The way I see it, this isn't just a promise.  The US has been selling this message for the last 100 or so years.  Every pop song, commercial movie, television show - pirated or otherwise - is telling everyone that what you need can be bought and it's probably your fault if you can't buy it.  Ninety-nine cents.  $9.99.  $99.  $1 mil.  Whatever.  It's the magic world of the minority that in no way represents how the majority of people live.  And it has a remarkable way of making people feel bad about what they do have.  Cultural imperialism is probably our biggest export - Anyone up for a pizza at Pizza Hut?

A super-fly life for each and every one of us 6.6 billion? We've been selling something that was never ours to sell.    

Posted on Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 09:56PM by Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf | CommentsPost a Comment

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