I must admit that I am really naive to a lot of things. I might have a bad case of ‘Out of sight out of mind’ syndrome, and to make matters worse, Im not alone in my thinking. I’ve always been a recycler, but never thought much about the process. I was a consumer (and still am) and then after consumption I just put the leftover unwanted parts in its appropriate bin and wait for someone else to come take it away. They could be taking it to the planet Mars as far as I was concerned. Come to find out, they aren’t shipping our trash to Mars, but China!
According to a US News article from April 2016, China and Ghana are the two largest destinations of US electronic trash. Imagine a world filled with IPhone 4’s, ‘un-intelligent’ tv’s and maybe a pager or two. This world exists, but it’s not exactly legal. It’s not technically trade between nations but more like trade between businesses, since both China and Ghana signed a treaty (Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal) agreeing to ban hazardous waste imports. According to the news artilcle, “scrap dealers, repairman and second-hand salesman constitite ‘informal cottage industries’ by showing up at docks to buy the electronic waste and risk exposure to toxic material in the hope of making extra cash by recycling.”
Recyling electronics isn’t as profitable as it used to be, because many companies are saving costs by using less minerals like gold and copper in their electronics. It’s becoming more expensive then for recycling companies to make a profit recycling, and many businesses get around that by shipping recycleables overseas. In 2014 the UN reported that in fact only 16% of all the worlds electronic waste was recycled by government agencies or sanctioned businesses.
The problem is that (1) consumers want the latest and greatest devices, (2) phones seem to just break too easily and (3) the general public just doesn’t think about the impact that all of these electronics has on the environment – myself included (until now that is). I grew up with the ideas that as long as you put it in the appropriate bin then its all good…but its not ‘all good”. According to the EPA, in 2013 the average U.S. household owned 28 consumer electronics and generated 3.14 million tons of electronic waste.
In 2016 China, apparently fed- up from being the worlds dump site, issued a ‘Green Fence’ policy in which they would reject shipments at ports if the recycles were too contaminated with unrecylcable materials. The problems was that a lot of the reclylables they were receiving (not just electronics) were too dirty to recycle and ended up in the Chinese landfills. The ‘Green Fence’ has actually helped maintain a higher standard when it comes to recycleable materials, and some US businesses are benefiting because of it.
All of this information is to say: it just doesn’t go away. Old, broken phones don’t dissapear. Cracked screens become someone else’s problem, and I don’t think any government has found a way to send our trash into outer space yet. We, as a world, have engineered amazing machines that can process trash and recylcleables, but the sheer quantity alone is alarming. I have come to realize that I can only be responsible for myself, which is both frightening and empowering. The farm has taught me to value and treasure food more than I ever thought I could. I am learning to be less greedy and slowly limiting my consumption, but these are hard habits to break. In a world where convenience is king and efficiency queen, it often feels like an uphill battle.