E-waste, the new paper waste?

Here is a paper, studiously written, detailing the harmful effects of the growing amount of e-waste. What is e-waste? To quote from the linked website e-waste “…loosely refers to any white goods, consumer and business electronics, and information technology hardware that is in the end of its useful life…” I was surprised the implications of e-waste. I never thought of all the electronic devices that can only be partially recycled. I assumed pieces could be salvaged to make new things. I had a vague idea of the  recycling of metals from science class. Recycling metals, mixing them together, weakens its integrity, thus lowering their re-usability for future products. I’ve always thought of paper waste and plastic as the bigger issues. But e-waste contains plastics, whoops.

Here is a website, RRFB, a recycling initiative from Nova Scotia, and it’s has some pointers on how to reduce paper waste. Another website here has tips to lessen your paper waste footprint. I am somewhat comforted by the new ways of paper waste reduction, as well as new techniques and purposes found for paper waste, but I’m still uneasy about its future. It is still waste, and there is still a mechanical/chemical process involved in recycling paper waste. Here are some more stats on paper waste.

Both types of waste are bad for the environment, but I think we have a better grasp on paper waste reduction. Humans have used paper for many things, up until the advent of electronics like computers, tv’s, household appliances, car electronics etc. Since then, the production of technology has grown, which ultimately has contributed to much of the world’s waste. We’ve only begun to learn how to somewhat manage paper waste, and now we’ve unleashed another monster. Technology is definitely a double edged sword, moving to fast for us to predict its impact on the environment and it’s inhabitants.

Of course, while typing this I’m using a computer. This computer has given me access to such information, among other things, but this computer in the end, is future e-waste. I can think back on past computers I’ve owned, the appliances my parents have purchased, the ipod’s, cd players, game consoles, cellphones, stereos, cars, lawnmower, the list is large, albeit being just a short snippet from one family. There’s millions of other families out there doing the same thing. For the sake of humankind and it’s environment, I hope we are conscious of the negative impact we are causing when purchasing electronics, and with that in mind, sparingly make those purchases. It’s not an easy task to do when entertainment detracts from critical thought, I’m just as guilty.

Interesting side note, because I’m a graphic design student, this very issue is applicable to me. My designs are now not only concerned with the aesthetics of a brand, or object, but specifically what the design is being applied to and how it’s being applied must be considered. I will eventually be contributing more to this throw-away culture, but hopefully by then there will be stricter environmental laws. If not, then I’ll make use of the knowledge we’ve gained now.

I’d like to close with acknowledging that this more an opinion piece than a critical study. It’s meant to rouse, hopefully, some thought about the repercussions of paper waste and e-waste. One may be slightly less damaging, but it’s still nonetheless harmful. Waste is not going away, but there has got to be a better process of manufacturing goods and a better management system for its waste. I’m not a scientist, and I realize the great difficulty in providing feasible alternatives, but we need to make things last, more than 6 months to a year, and make them out of materials that are close to 0% harmful to the environment. On that note, I leave you with a quote from a tv show I grew up watching when I was a kid, Captain Planet and the Planeteers.

Ma-Ti: [of the wasteland simulation] Is this really what is going to happen to our Earth?
Dr. Derek: I hope not. But it’s time for us to stop polluting and start protecting our planet.
Captain Planet: And it’s time for each of us to do our part.

Captain Planet

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