Jan 26, 2009

Food for Thought....Reap What You Sow?

We were discussing consumerism and companies who design products to fail quickly so that you have to buy another sooner.....

In discussing it with my husband, he shared with me an article he read in National Geographic about where all of our electronic waste goes. I wanted to read it. I found it easily enough on a search of my own. Click the link and be sure to click the other links within this article, such as the Photo Gallery link.

While I don't buy the latest cell phone models, printers, monitors, etc. because I am the woman who should be embarrassed of her outdated equipment that she begrudgingly finally had to buy for business. I have bought 1 new of each when the other failed. I tried to find out how to properly dispose of these items. I decided to allow my toddler to use the old cell as a toy. I still have the old printer; I just need to find someone to fix it so that I can pass it down to my kids. The 4 giant monitors I had, however, was another story.

Those monitors and 2 CPUs had been sitting in my storage room for years. I thought I might be able to use them as servers someday...a technology I'm not all that in the know about. One computer was in my ownership alone for 15 years and was one that I had received free when a business I worked for shut down. I had worked with that computer for 3 years prior to it becoming my own personal computer. It had also suffered a motherboard failure at the hand of lightning and I paid $1000 to get a new one installed (that's how much that cost way back then). It started out as a Compaq 486 but turned into something else entirely with new disc drives, 3.5", etc. throughout its lifetime. The monitor went on it and my brother-in-law gave me one of his, but even larger...so large I could barely pick it up. When I needed access to speedy internet access, my cousin gave me his brother's old computer (he had passed away), and the monitor that came with it; this one was in my possession for about 7 years and was about 10 years old. I can't even tell you where the 4th monitor came from. I remember one starting to blink, so someone had to have given it to me.

Now we fast-forward to where my home business is now successful and requires more--I order a new computer with 2 monitors with a dual-monitor function to help my production and I now needed something to accommodate CDs and all of the new equipment I need that requires more from my computer, as well as the serial ports versus the USB ports. lol. I now needed fancy sound cards, etc. Then I needed to be mobile so I needed a laptop so I could take a vacation and still work, as I don't get any days off. I've had the desktop for 8 years now and the laptop now for 7.

Last year it was time to get the old equipment out of the storage room, "clean house" so to speak. I contacted my garbage service, as I had heard it was illegal to dispose of computer monitors in the trash. They told me that they weren't supposed to pick them up, but that if I put them in the trash, they would take them. I asked them what they did with them, and they told me that they put them in the landfill. In amazement, I shared that I was told that was what we should be trying NOT to do. Some conversation followed with a giggle--what else can you do? She said "You'd be amazed at what we take that we aren't supposed to." I called my City to see if they had a hazardous material pickup date for these things - they didn't know anything. I called computer repair shops too. I can't remember who else I called that day, but many, many sources. I was somehow referred to a charitable organization. Success! They said they DO take used monitors. I dropped a "Well, at least someone else can actually use them." comment out of relief my search had finally ended, but he replied with "Oh no, we don't actually resell them or donate them, we give them to XXXX. I think they have a recycling program or something." Oh brother. I opted for saving them until our Spring Cleanup Day where people drive around and pick through the items on the curb and find treasure in another woman's trash. I kept the cords in the house and put a sign up indicating they should ring the bell for the cords, as some people cut cords off of the items you put out there. Someone took one of the CPUs that I had removed the hard drive from, but that was it. I finally took the remainder to the place accepting donated monitors. I figured I did my best.

Finding and reading this article in the midst of trying to keep us with what CPSIA really means.....it suddenly hits me.....Do We Reap What We Sow? It implies that at least some of the lead in items from overseas is from our electronic waste that made it back to us in the form of products -- could it have been a material from one of MY monitors poisoning a child in ANY country? I pray that it was not.

It makes me wonder whether it is the country as a whole that reaps what it sows....afterall, they just keep buying newer and better models for items there is really nothing wrong with, no? They allowed this practice of dumping toxic electronics in other countries, no? At least some manufacturers believe it is better to build products planning them to expire and to be irrelevant more quickly so we "need" to replace them sooner. What is the price of convenience? Was it not convenient enough the model prior? Are we, even those who believe the CPSIA law is nothing but a good thing, actually hypocrites? Is it okay to destroy other countries and entire villages, their residents, their children--just not our own?

This actually makes me relieved to know that those very children and adults who are literally killing themselves stripping the barely valuable components to fetch a dollar to feed themselves and their families probably don't have a TV or exposure to the hypocrisy of what we are worrying about right now.

I absolutely hate it when this usually proud American feels like an ashamed American. We've apparently been shipping toxic products by the tens of millions a year to other countries and now we're all upset about it being done to us when some of those products complete a cycle we've actually started - it started with us and is ending with us, and now we're mad about it? I'll keep fighting the battle to stop unnecessary and redundant testing, although now with a little voice in the back of my head.

I know this doesn't apply to every toxic product in question here, but it still bothers me to think that even one child has suffered because of what WE have allowed to happen elsewhere. I am angry it happened to "us," but I'm also angry it has happened to others as well. I believe that needs to stop as well.


  1. Planned obsolescence, is a result of the wrong type of person coming in contact with money and ability. Many people in this country, would never sign off on willfully polluting it, or any other country for that matter…either with what they consume, or manufacture. Doing what’s right in terms of your own hazardous waste and recycling products is what we can do. Trusting others to do the same with our garbage is the hard part. Society has complacently placed the burden of deciding “what’s right” in the hands of the government (ie. please regulate and squash small business who were not to blame because we trusted big box stores and they poisoned our children with lead). For the CPSIA, Ron Paul was the only person to object to it, and yes, he could have been our president. If Obama does not change this regulation from the CPSIA everyone who voted for him can hand their heads. Your friend may have artfully dodged some of the regulations, but only by reducing her scope. That’s not winning, that’s conforming.

  2. Very good points. In defense of my friend, however, if I'm understanding that reference correctly, conforming while fighting a battle is a sure way to survive in the interim. Not everyone has the ability to temporarily conform however. I didn't mean to imply that she is not fighting for the small business cause altogether.

  3. I live in the Twin Cities (Minnesota) and in the last couple of years an electronics recycling day has been hosted by a non-profit organization. The drop off site has been the Mall of America parking lot. Last year, on the day of the event, roads were jammed with traffic and people waited in lines for more than 2 hours to get rid of computers, TVs etc. that they had been storing while trying to find a safe way to dispose of them. So much more needs to be done to make it less difficult to do what is right and safe.