Random Thoughts

Trading E-Waste

Few days after landing maple land, While setting-up my grad office (#K103) at Engmath@Dal.Ca, we (my Prof, Head, me; Wondered the 'self-help' nature!) were cleaning up hundreds of junks from one room and crammed it up to an another total-junk room. At the end, I was lost in agape, as dozens of - CPUs, obsolete PCs, printers, fax machine, cables, keyboards, office phones, and miscellaneous plastics - are all what we dumped as wastes. First glimpse at the pile of E-waste, besides my knowledge of municipal-solid & liquid wastes and the high-end Nuclear-waste. It was only an ad-hoc and immediate measure: transfer all inoperative e-gadgets as e-garbage and dump in a room and smile as if problem is solved. Since legally Department as such could not tag the waste to nearby landfill, or it should pay extra [comparatively astronomical for merely exporting the e-junks to Noranda Inc, Quebec] for high-tech clean-up program of recycling e-wastes, which at least Halifax doesn't have.

E-Waste Recycle and Disposal

At macro-level, there are two ways to handle the E-Wastes: Dispose or Recycle/Refurbish.

Disposal: All known about the anatomical architecture of computers are that, parts of, Microprocessor, Computer chip, monitor, circuit board, molded plastics make-up that gleam, sexy i-mac/think pad/ PC. At atomic level, the array of chemical constituents that make-up the computers are the trail of: lead & cadmium, barium, PCBs etc; De-facto horror is, they all release highly toxic dioxins & furans under its own unfavorable conditions. Land filling is the state-of-art disposal techie to manage with e-wastes and Landfill in real sense, is a PPB (Poisonous Pandora's Box). Landfills - underground facility, where all the x,y,z wastes on produced on planet are dumped and sealing it up in an engineered way, that it doesn't seep through air or ground. It's just like: Collect all the bloodiest-poisonest-devilish anacondas from Amazon and seal it up in an 'engineered' hood. It's easier to visualize the consequence if any delicate damage happens to the seal. There are hundreds of 'abandoned' landfills, upon which now the slender-tall buildings crops up, due to the real-estate boom. The under-ground scenario is, permeation of leached wastes contaminates the ground water. Now, the e-fact is, consumer electronics constitute 40 percent of the lead found in landfills. The lead is treacherous that even you burn, stomp, or bury it - it will sustain its life cycle!

Recycling: Specialized electronic recyclers strip-off essential re-usable components and incinerate the left-overs in smelters. However, the end product is a metal stream, that is worth money based on the composition of the metals. It's got a lot of steel, aluminum and copper. The scrapped chunks could be re-, but its the least preferred, since the "cost" of recycling -- is not free, either the Producer should inflate the cost of greener- product or the Govt. should provide subsidiaries for it. That's not a commercial equation which could be marketed since its not a producer's responsibility to give ultra-green products at a marketable cost. Added to that, due to regulations and pollution laws, it's often cheaper to export the scrap to [Third world/needy] countries where such laws, if they exist at all, are more lax than those in Canada and the United States. Cool, collect resourceful metals from the amalgamation of scraps! There are a lot of countries that make a huge business in the processing, recycling, smelting and disassembly of electronics, and pathetically it is done in an environmentally unfriendly manner.

Immoral Export of Pollution

Exporting e-toxic wastes to Third world countries could be a quite embarrassing but convenient solution to USA and Canada. Rationale: Easy to smuggle the sources of wastes and utter, "Unexplained losses"; Cost of transporting is meager to the costs/risks in living with toxic pollutants; Could keep its Landfills toxic-waste-free and meeting the US-EPA clean-up and health standards. The export is done under the banner of "Recycling E-Waste" technology as a trend-setting enviro-trade. Recycling needs to be done at high-cost and protective conditions, that it doesn't impair the health/enviro-conditions of the recycler. But the third World country-recyclers are just happy enough to do 'any' Foreign-based business; It's easy for them to eyewash their governments and do things as carelessly as possible. So they waive-off the standards of recycling-technology and pollute themselves. Recently NGOs, enviro-activists and watchdogs zeroed down the transfer of pollutions across the hemispheres and charged U.S and Canada are using 'immorally' the economic coercion upon the Third world countries. Despite their rhetoric noises, the lobbyists at White House mutes down the environmentalists and whistle-blowers, saying that, "We have conveyed them the 'required' technology to recycle; It's up to them to follow it or not".


Following is the clever tactic summoned up, to relegate the raising voices against the 'Export of Toxic-wastes' to obscurity, by the chief economist for the World Bank (Shocking info is, later he served also as President of Harvard University & Secretary of the United States Treasury, under President Bill Clinton): "... I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that. ..." The key logic is, Under populated = Under polluted. Trading hazards by shipping the e-wastes in containers is no longer secretive and a viable substitute is dumping it in the un-polluted regions of some other continent. There is a merciless, cold and arrogant strategy behind this -"Disease caused in an Industrialized and powerful society, due to pollution is of much 'universal' concern than the same disease caused in a deprived society where already it thrives of very high mortality rates". Canada, as a puppet of Sam, trumpets the same ideology, though its currently been severely ripped off by its 'enormous' shipment of hazards to China. Indomitable and powerful dollars are tainted, morally at the core. Besides, Euro is cleaner than Dollar!

'Certain things could happen only in America(s)': An entire town has been put on ebay.com for online-purchase. Likewise, its irony is also unique: Massachusetts, became the first state to ban CRTs from landfills, though it rules out abortion as illegal! Cleaner Techno-savvy, yet Catholish!! San Francisco followed the suite. It is roughly estimated, if whole of Calif., being the epicenter of silicon revolution, goes on for proper, legal handling of e-wastes, Californians should be annually taxed almost whopping!! Yuck! -Revenues in Waste. Along with what West-Governments had trained its ppl [ultimately] to configure the multiple/weird traffic signals, and also in deciphering multi-types of Fed, State, Sales, et al, Taxes - In future, it will burden with the costs of disposing e-waste as E-Waste Tax. Situation could go more worse: Tired of paying Water, Power, Telephone, Inet, grocery, and other zillion bills - Wait for one more, Air Bill. The only prominent, 'supposedly' non-tradable natural resource left on earth to be pocketed for commercial purposes: cleaner Air.

However, for e-wastes, What U can do: Don't throw e-gadgets in trash [It would find its natural way to Third-worlds, through garbage-pickers and smugglers]. Try re-engineering them to use it. Or pay 'appropriately' in the nearest electronic recycling centers. Ideal thing:- Innovate smart eco-friendly materials for chips and processors and lead the future legacy of greener-high-tech revolution. :)  


More by :  M. D. Mukesh

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