Opulent, Oblique, and Obsolete

// Posted by on 06/10/2015 (9:39 PM)

Hi my name is David and I’m a “trailblazing consumer.”

Really though, I’m a combination of “trailblazing consumer,” “fashion fanatic,” and sometimes I’m just a “fickle consumer.” The bottom line is I’m just as guilty of this outrageous management of e-waste as the rest of the developed world is.

I strongly encourage you to watch the video above as well as this one,

I love Annie Leonard. I was very excited to find out that she was going to be the keynote speaker at a conference I went to back in October. She’s not doing too much work with The Story of Stuff Project these days, but she is currently the Executive Director of Greenpeace.

I’ve always known that e-waste was bad, but I don’t think I knew how bad it had escalated. I just thought we had separate recycling because it was bad for heavy metals to wind up in the landfill and that perhaps components could be reused. I didn’t once think, and I keep up with environmental issues fairly regularly, that these items were being shipped overseas for the poorest of some other country to be left with the remnants of the developed world’s arrogance and wastefulness.

These videos depicted the results of the developed world’s constant desire for the newest and the best. I have to wonder why more information about this isn’t widely circulated, but then I think about it for a second and I quickly affirm that the reason is money. If the obsolescence of computer, TVs, cell phones, and so on wasn’t planned, what reason would consumers, we’ll say in the United States, have to buy a new fill in the blank. Because cell phone companies offer one and two year contract, the average person takes that to mean that in one to two years they will need to get a new cell phone, and they will. Odds are the cellphone manufacturers, Apple, Motorola, etc. will have new models out by the end of that contract period too. Why would you not want to buy the latest and greatest?

So who’s at fault for these atrocities? I know that’s a strong word, but odds are the manufacturers, marketing companies, and even the consumers are aware of some aspect of the waste generated by the disposal and constant desire to have the latest and greatest electronic gadget. Slade states that “our actions as consumers of electronic goods clearly has a ripple effect around the world.

The United States has an opportunity to be a leader here. We need to be a leader in the proper dismantling of e-waste and the proper recycling of reusable parts and disposal of those that aren’t able to be used again. Further, we need to come up with better practices about how we manage what cannot be used again. Since we, as an intelligent people, are aware that the metals and other materials that are used to make our electronics are toxic – we need to find sustainable alternatives that will ultimately mitigate the environmental impact when they make their way to into the waste stream. This is an issue we need to handle domestically – not pawn off on the poor in developing nations. Perhaps if we left this issue at home, and we had to see it every day, we, as consumers, wouldn’t be as quick to jump and buy the latest and greatest. We vote with our wallets, and I know that if I find out a company is taking steps to better manage their electronic waste, and they are finding ways to incorporate fewer and less toxic materials into their products that I would quickly opt to support them with my purchase.

What’s more important? Our environmental future or making a few bucks on selling a few more cell phones?

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Kindall said...

I completely agree with you. Also- great visual aids!

// 06/11/2015 at 12:41 pm

Rosatelli said...

Hi David,

Great visual aids and videos–I haven’t seen a visual aid that explores the metals and toxic components as they impact the human body, so this was great. You also rightly point the finger at everyone: consumers, manufacturers, and the government. (Although, the government is often controlled by powerful lobbies who are not always working in the interest of the planet or its people–depending.) I do think that there is slightly more awareness, but as more and more people become consumers, we have to really think about a sustainable solution. Is it a modular phone? Taxes on electronics that cover their disposal? Better regulations? All three? The reason I had you all read Made to Break was to show that this is a cultural issue, not something that is natural. We came up with the idea of planned obsolescence, and if we want to, we can end it. Going back to our notes on Poster, it’s culture, culture, culture. Tools are tools, things are things, and culture dictates how we use those tools and what we do with those things when we are done. The rub is: if we change our culture, do we change our cultural identity? Is this an “American” thing? Do we become become less “American” when we consume less?

// 06/12/2015 at 3:07 pm