In one day, out the other

It was like a home away from home, if just for one night.

Wafts of roasted turkey breast, oven-crisped stuffing and smooth mashed potatoes filled the air as North and South Americans alike sat around the food-adorned Thanksgiving table.

As is the custom with many Thanksgiving meals in the States, before digging in, we each shared a “thanks-giving” blurb. Recitations spanned from enjoying the company of newfound friends to having a chance to be a part of this North American tradition.

Conversation flowed easily around the table, eventually landing on the topic of how each of us knew each other.

However, as the majority of us came from the (in my opinion) over-privileged side of the Americas, it didn’t take long for those thanks we had just finished giving to drift on out into the summer breeze as an attendee began sharing her experience on her international flight to Peru from the States.

“We didn’t even have TVs on the back of the seats in front of us. I mean, what international flight doesn’t have personal TVs?!”

Naturally, doing what I do best, I sat there quietly and absorbed in the rest of the information she related to us about this airline, from its “70s-style, carpet-covered seats” to the fact that she wasn’t allowed to choose the meal she was given (beef, chicken, vegetarian, etc.).

So often do citizens of the United States believe they need the newest and best of everything; this is often referred to as “Keeping up with the Joneses.”

As mentioned in my introduction post to this series, the newer is better mentality that continues to rampage across the States contributes up to 50 million metric tons of e-waste disposed worldwide every year.

Back in 2015, the United States led the world in producing 7.2 million metric tons of e-waste a year; China came in second with 6.1 million metric tons.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the term e-waste (or electronic waste), it is a term for “electronic products that have become unwanted, non-working or obsolete, and have essentially reached the end of their useful life.”

E-waste includes DVD, CD and cassette players; fax machines; printers; computers; radios; cell phones and much more.

With the rate that technology advances, the turnover often happens within a matter of short years.

According to the EPA, e-waste is the fastest growing municipal waste stream in the States.

But as a matter of fact, much of e-waste isn’t even waste at all. Much of the parts or equipment that makes up our electronics can be recycled or reused. (Keep in mind that only 12.5 percent is recycled.)

35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver and 75 pounds of gold can be salvaged from 1 million recycled cell phones.

Recycling just as many laptops saves energy equivalent to the electricity used by 3,657 U.S. homes in one year.

But where we begin running into problems is when developed countries (such as the States and European countries) send their e-waste to developing countries to be recycled.

European exportation of non-functioning electronics is illegal. But it is often hidden through labeling the waste as “used goods.” Labeling them as such also diverts the costs associated with recycling.

The reason to export this waste overseas can arguably be the same as for why many manufacturing jobs have been sent overseas.

There are lower labor costs and fewer regulatory burdens.

Although handling the used goods in developed countries ensures regulations to help protect workers and the environment, it comes at a cost. This cost is often higher than the waste is worth.

So off to Africa, India and China the waste is sent.

Locals of these countries work under hazardous conditions to pick apart the products for their valuables.

For example, the Chinese city of Guiyu in the Guangdong province is often referred to as one of the largest dumping grounds for electronic waste.

Here, practices for removing metals include cooking circuit boards to melt lead solder for gold, copper and aluminum and burning wires in open piles to reveal the copper inside. Once finished, “undesirable” leftovers are thrown into irrigation ditches and nearby rivers.

According to Reuters, many workers are in poorly ventilated workshops with little protective gear.

And consequently, children living in the area have abnormally high levels of lead in their blood, found a study by Southern China’s Shantou University.

Many will argue that efforts are being made to address the e-waste problem in developing countries, but I believe the issue deals with consumerism.

Society pushes us to believe that acquiring goods in ever-increasing amounts is desirable.

Society tells us that buying the newest iPhone increases your status.

Society judges you for having a 3-year old laptop because it’s already outdated by next year’s model.

Nothing is ever good enough because by tomorrow, it’s already old.

But the reduction in e-waste begins with you. It begins with you being content with what you have.

And when the time comes for you to NEED to replace your electronics, do your research. Make sure you’re giving your unwanted, still usable electronics to legitimate drop-off sites that follow regulations and pay the fair prices.

Save the health of those who can’t afford the lifestyle they clean up after.

After all, every little bit helps to become a better person tomorrow.


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