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2011: The Year We Conquer E-Waste!

By Dar Williams, Singer-songwriter, The Huffington Post

E-waste was consuming me in 2010. Actually, e-wastefulness was. I thought about it all the time.

The mined metals going into electronics were linked to gangsters and despots; the waste going out was linked to poisonous mountain ranges trekked by garbage-picking children.

Reducing my own electronic consumption alone would not stem the growing alpine heights of waste and shocking news.

Then I saw, like the sun rising behind a toxic Matterhorn, an aura of light growing around this electronic wasteland. Some excellent people were on the case. And not just in Europe.

As journalists and scientists were risking their lives to expose e-waste atrocities, coalitions were forming to create consumer information and policy language to address the global problem, also getting two crucial large players involved.

One player was the electronics industry. Many companies agreed to take their products back. The brilliant Annie Leonard-narrated Story of Electronics (www.storyofstuff.com) shows the relationship between companies taking responsibility for their stuff and longer lasting, modularly adaptable, less toxic electronics.

Unfortunately, voluntary take back programs were “laughable” according to Barbara Kyle of the Electronics Take Back Coalition, with Dell and Samsung being “notable exceptions.”

So another big entity got on board, and now these companies are successfully hauling in millions of e-pounds.

Who provided this extra muscle? I’ll give you a hint: Nutmeg, Garden, Buckeye. Yes, the states.

North Star State Minnesota has legislated one model requiring companies to take back 80% of the waste per pound that they sell. Apple, for instance, can take back a 16-pound printer (by any manufacturer), and sell four 5-pound laptops.

Evergreen State Washington, meanwhile, is going with the “convenience” model, requiring companies to create a certain number of pick-up sites per county.

The states have been fabulous “policy incubators”, according to Barbara, so much so that some e-companies are advocating federal take back laws that they know will be more anemic.

Today, however, states are running with it. All eyes are on the Empire State, New York, which has combined the two models of legislation. Barbara predicts that the combination will be the charm.

It behooves our states to take action. They’re the ones that have to deal with shrinking landfill space, endangered water tables, and lost work from pollution-related health problems.

To innovation’s advantage, the states are like fifty impressionable high school students who totally care what the other states are wearing, so to speak, especially if Oregon can afford more expensive jeans because of stabilized landfill growth.

And what about the companies who become responsible for their products’ e-waste? This could be their golden era. Engineers and industrial designers have always excelled at multi-purpose innovations, and if my after-concert conversations are any indication, the “green” part of one’s job is what makes it worthwhile. Light, fast, AND sustainable? Imagine that as an industry imperative instead of designing “for the dump” in a sad sack world of planned obsolescence.

And think about all those industrious types you’ve known who love the eco-friendly reclamation aspect of turning anything into a bong. Broken teapot? Bong. Decorative gourd? A righteous bong. Also, a kalimba. Hello, Silicon Valley’s next blue-jean-grapefruit-pectin computer shell.

They say it’s in our DNA to want things, but so too is the instinct to close to the loop, to have abundance with an assurance of future abundance. So, in 2011, help companies take “cradle to cradle” responsibility for their products, and watch those products get cleaner, greener and closer to the tools of enlightenment, equality and engagement that electronics can be. Bill Gates calls the PC “a miracle.” Not if it’s a slow-release mercury pill.

Here are some resources:

For inspiration, watch the Story of Electronics.

Then click on the Electronics Take Back Coalition site for more information about Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws and actions.

Next you can contact your approachable state senator. Chances are, yours went to your high school. Being a New Yorker with a promising law in play, I’m going to call my friend, State Senator Jamie Raskin of Maryland, and let him know the Old Line State’s laws are sooo 2006.

And what about your actual stuff? Barbara gave me a one-stop click to find out where to bring your electronics, for re-use, to “e-stewards” for certified recycling, to manufacturer designated sites or even Best Buy, believe it or not. Go to: http://www.electronicstakeback.com/how-to-recycle-electronics/. I’m going to put that address on a reclaimed bottle cap and make it into a refrigerator magnet.

A big thank you to the people who have made this easier, less mountainously insurmountable! The excellent Electronics Take Back Coalition allows all of us to find any information we need and do what we love to do: plug in and GO. Let’s go in 2011.

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