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Dealing with e-Waste: or not


One of the things that we�ll be doing at GreenSpec-Light is to talk about some of the issues that don�t usually make the popular headlines, but which have enormous relevance to an organisation�s sustainability credentials.

And today, I�d like to pick up on a couple of things that have come my way this week.

1. The disposal of LEDs at the end of their lives, and where does e-stuff go when we throw it away?

2. A book about slum living in Mumbai.

We may accept intellectually that just dumping our e-rubbish halfway around the globe is a morally bankrupt thing to do, but that doesn�t stop us putting our hands in our pockets and walking away whistling when we �dispose responsibly� of old electronics.
Salvage companies take our old e-trash, tag it as �charitable donations� and abandon it on the doorstep of some of the poorest people in the world, for them to scrape a living from stripping out anything reclaimable from the equipment.

Consequence: The health and environmental risks of informal recycling are high. Extracting metals like copper and gold in open acid baths, which is illegal, releases toxins such as dioxins, heavy metals, lead, cadmium, mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFRs). Acid and chemical residues contaminate water and soil. Informal recyclers work without protective clothing, exposing themselves to hazardous chemicals that can lead to physical injuries � mercury, for instance, can cause brain and kidney damage, and BFRs disrupt hormonal function � and chronic illnesses like asthma and skin diseases

Read more at the TIME website:

Which brings me to �Behind The Beautiful Forevers�, a book by Katherine Boo.
Boo spent three years with the people of Annawadi, a slum settlement in view of Mumbai airport. The book describes the lives of people living in desperate poverty � and talks of the problem of finding translators prepared to go into the rooms of the e-garbage sorters.
It�s a book that creates a bridge between our philosophical understanding of the problem of e-dumping and the awareness that there are real people whose health is being ruined by our lack of taking a true moral position on the situation.

The crazy thing is that we still need all those nasty elements. We send the old stuff as far away as possible, then buy the stuff back so that we can make the next generation of LEDs and electronic circuitry.

There is another way, of course. I was talking to Computer Salavage Specialists earlier today and learned all that I need to know about how they treat electronic waste and how those important elements are recovered here in the UK.

I feel the need to address the argument that says the current situation is keeping thousands of people alive - albeit on the very edge of existence - and if this means of survival was taken away then they'd be in an even worse situation.

Hmm. Cant of the worst order, I'd say. I have no problems with the idea of e-waste being sent around the world, but I then expect to see the same level of technology being used to handle the material as we have here in the UK.

To accept the status quo is to accept slavery and children up chimneys. They weren't right then; this isn't right now.

RIBA CPD in 2015

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