Sunday, December 14, 2014

Attempting to Balance the Environment, Economics, and Ethics

There are many different aspects to consider with perusing a balance between the desire for electronics and the pursuit of a healthy environment and economy. The need and longing to purchase electronics can be seen by some as important enough to outweigh the problems that transpire, while conversely maintaining the environment may be seen as more valuable. Individuals may consider the ethical concerns surrounding mining for precious metals or e-cyclying versus reasons people want electronics; work, school, hobbies or entertainment. These types of uses for electronics also create a need for new and improved electronics, which requires an increase in precious metals coming from mining or e-recycling which demands consideration for both issues. Ethical concerns arise when considering manufacturing and disposal of electronics due to varying work conditions of those who build or recycle them. Furthermore, these rare metals and electronics are valuable, creating a market and economic climate to be measured against the previous issues. Stability within the economy in conjunction with environment and ethical concerns for workers drives an examination of sustainable practices and policies.
The people who live in and around Guiyu, China experience the complications of recycling e-waste first hand. Many people come from different parts of China in order to find work as an e-cycler. It is illegal to export e-waste from first world countries to poverty stricken countries and yet it is a common occurrence. Many of these poor countries focus less on e-recycling as an environmentally friendly behavior and more on e-recycling as a form income, by extracting precious metals and melting down plastic for resale. Many of the workers in Guiyu expressed mixed feelings about the process of stripping these electronics for resale. While they are well aware it is hazardous to their health and the environment, they also take into consideration the valuable source of revenue.[1] This widespread contamination of the environment in China and other countries and their inhabitants should make citizens worldwide apprehensive. Ethical, environment, and economical issues should be important to the leading contributor, the benefactors, or those who are most harmed in this situation.
The United Nations partnered with a watchdog group called Basel Action Network  in order to make the transport of e-waste from first world countries to poor countries illegal and fight the continuing illegal importation. They formed an e-waste reduction program called “Solving the E-Waste Problem,” or StEP. Compiled of five task forces; Policy, ReDesign, ReUse, Recycle, Capacity Building the group attempts to address multiple layers regarding e-waste. Made up of various task-forces, goals such as studying procedures surrounding e-waste, promoting consideration towards the full life-cycle of an electronic before manufacturing are of main concern. They also consider how to prolong use of already purchased electronics by consumers, for example promoting upgrades instead of replacements, therefore, taking into consideration every part of the equation.[2]
Klaus Hieronymi, 3rd from left, at recycling conference
The StEP initiative was co-founded by Klaus Hieronymi- a sustainability advocate, author of e-waste management books, and the chairman of Hewlett Packard’s environmental board. Since he is working with HP it is assumed he is invested in manufacturing electronics, but his behaviors communicate he is also aware of criticisms HP has experienced, as well as a desire to promote proper e-waste management.[3] His work provides an example of what can be perceived as balance between the manufacturers of electronics and those who wish to protect the environment and the people affected by e-waste. Promoting the reduction of e-waste and proper e-cycling practices are actions anyone at any level can take. While mining for precious metals, manufacturing and selling electronics, and e-waste disposal can be complicated topics, recycling our own electronics is a straightforward first step we as individuals can contribute to a healthier world.       

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Why do we need to update?

One of the big issues with rare earth metals is the fact that people do not recycle them.  Instead, we go out and buy the newest iPhone and do god knows what with the old one.  But what is the reason we update so much?  Sure, the next iPhone might have a bigger screen or maybe have another cool feature that is advertised really well but we all know you’re only going to use the thing for texting and keeping updated on the latest social media.  This is not in any way good for companies, but if we just kept the model we had and let that last us until a few more updates came out instead of buying the very next model, not only could we save money, but we could help...what’s that? Yes! Save the earth!

This seems a good compromise anyway.  If you wait for a few updates to pass you by, you can 1) not worry about all the inevitable bugs and issues that come with your new piece of technology 2) actually save some money and 3) help cut back on the demand for these rare earth metals that are causing so many issues in the world right now.

So next time you go out and decide that you need the new, curvy iPhone, think again at how ridiculous it is to need something you actually already have!

Your Cell Phone is Radioactive!

When cell phones came out, I always heard people saying not to put them up to your head for too long, it’ll fry your brain.  Funny thing is, I don’t think that is too far off from being correct.  Radioactivity has been detected in rare earth metals and traces have been found in the mines, the waste deposits, and yes, in your electronics.  My questions however, if putting these phones next to your head is so bad, why is carrying them in your pocket for hours upon hours at a time never a concern to people?  Of all the places I could have radioactive issues, I don’t think down where my pockets are is the place that I want that.

Now this isn’t going to make you want to go out and recycle your phones or get rid of them in any fashion, but I do think it might be important to think about how we carry our electronics on our person.  For those of you who don’t know, cell phones can cause cancer! And in many cases they have.  So a little advice:

If you’re a female who just happens to be wearing pants without pockets on a certain day, which there is no problem with that, think twice before stuffing your phone down your bra.  Breast cancer is a big enough problem right now that I don’t think there needs to be any added reason why it might occur.  Maybe stuff your phone in your purse instead?  I know, how are you going to get notified about the newest Facebook status, or how are you going to know when your friends reply to your oh so important texts?  I get it, I along with the majority of people have an addiction to my cell phone as well.  But maybe turning up the volume might be a good idea?

There’s a new slogan! Turn up the volume, turn down the radiation!

This goes for guys as well.  No, I do not recommend wearing a man-purse or whatever they’re called, but maybe when you sit down somewhere, take it out of your pocket and lay it next to you instead.  Cut down on the time it’s pressed right up against your body.

Food for thought.

Monday, December 8, 2014

IBM Discovers Laptop Batteries Can Power Other Electronics!

As the world struggles to understand and solve the ecological problems created by the impressive technological advances of recent years, there is positive news implying that we are getting on track! IBM is using some of their resources to help resolve some of the ecological devestation that the technology that they, and their industry, have profited from over the years. IBM published a paper in which they propose a device called UrJar (a portmanteau of the Hindi word "urja" meaning energy, and "jar" meaning box) that enables laptop batteries to power other devices, like lights. Their study involved just five participants, "Five users (4 male, 1 female) participated in this study. Only one was a residential consumer, while the remaining were street-side vendors - two of them selling fast-food items, and two selling tea and cigarettes. One participant was between 20-25 years of age, three between 30-35 years, and one between 40-45 years. Two participants had an undergraduate degree, while one went to higher school, and two had only attended primary school."  You can read the whole paper here: .

They state that "discarded" Lithiom Ion batteries used to power laptops generate a "significant amount of e-waste." and that  "recycling Li-Ion batteries is not commercially viable". In other words recycling of these materials is not a current reality because it "still takes 6 to 10 times more energy to reclaim metals from recycled Li-Ion batteries as it does to produce these materials from recycled Li-Ion batteries as it does to produce these materials through other means, including fresh mining." 

The significance of this study and the present media hype on it warrants further analysis.