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Annie Leonard’s “The Story of Electronics” [VIDEO]

November 11th, 2010 · 2 Comments

Annie Leonards The Story of Electronics video explains how the industry and “designing for the dump” is toxic to people and the planet. Simple. Powerful.

Annie Leonard has a new video released this week called “The Story of Electronics” and I strongly recommend that you spend 7 minutes and 47 seconds of your time watching this video. I promise you it’s worth it.

Yes, it’s the very same Annie Leonard who brought us the viral video “The Story of Stuff” almost 3 years ago and her latest work is another communications masterpiece – powerful in it’s simplicity, disturbing without being preachy, fast-paced and extremely fun to watch. It succeeds, in my opinion, in explaining “why ‘designed for the dump’ is toxic for people and the planet” in the most basic and simple terms that my 7-year-old son can understand and think about.

Watch: The Story of Electronics: Why “Designed for the Dump’ is Toxic for People and the Planet by Annie Leonard

Designing for the Dump

The video traces the pathway of electronics manufacturing – from the design, to procurement of materials, to assembly and manufacturing, to our purchasing the products, and finally, to the eventual disposal of the product.

In the materials procurement stage, the environment is damaged, old forests are leveled, rivers become polluted from mining, and even horrible wars are promoted to get those raw materials.

When the product is ready, consumers are inundated with clever marketing and advertising ploys to make us want to purchase those shiny new electronic toys that will become obsolete in 18 months. Companies do have a planned obsolescence strategy designed into their products, as Dave Connell at Cool Green Science pointed out. Annie Leonard calls it designing for the dump. Indeed, with the race to constantly come up with new toys every year, manufacturers are virtually flooding us with electronic products that are “hard to upgrade, easy to break, and impractical to repair.”

When it comes to end-of-life-cycle disposal, few recycling companies actually recycle these products in the sense that we understand it when we bring our old computers to those weekend recycling drives. Many will take the short cut and just export those tons of e-waste to places like Guiyo in China where unskilled and unprotected workers will manually disassemble those products in primitive conditions, exposing themselves to toxic chemicals and poisoning the environment.

Manufacturing companies are essentially dumping tons (25 million tons per year, to be exact) of electronic waste on the rest of us. When we docilely go along with this crazy system, Annie says we’re basically looking at all the toxic mess and telling the companies “you made it, but we’ll deal with it.”

You made it, you deal with it.

Yes, we can recycle our computers and other electronics products and we should. We can be creative and upcycle old electronics stuff into wall clocks or tables. We can be selective in our purchases and choose to only buy products from manufacturers with the highest environmental ratings. But these are all patchwork solutions that are simply inadequate to deal with the 25 million tons of electronic items we produce every year. There must be something more comprehensive and effective than these.

As a matter of fact, there is. In the film, Annie Leonard points out that electronics recycling laws are now being enacted in many jurisdictions that contain one key component – these laws put the responsibility of product disposal squarely on the manufacturers through take-back programs. In short, people through their legislatures are now telling manufacturers “you made it, you deal with it.”

But Annie Leonard goes a step further in the solution that she proposes. She’s urging manufacturers and high-tech designers to stop designing for the dumps and instead make products that are designed to last.

Designing for things to last, to be easily recycled, for the component (modular) parts to be easily replaced is the sensible, efficient, and right thing to do. But, in this day and age when greed seems to be the norm and all that investors look for in a company is constantly increasing profit margins, I doubt if manufacturers on their own will readily embrace the idea of designing their products to last. They all face this constant pressure from investors to post a profit number that’s higher than last year’s and the easy way out is to flood consumers with new products every 18 months or so.

There is hope, of course. A system that’s been in place for a long time can’t be undone in the course of just a few years. The takeback programs are a good start, most definitely. These are the necessary baby steps. When companies like Apple or IBM are made responsible for the disposal of 100 percent of their products, it’s only a matter of time before their smart people will come up with products that are less harmful to the environment or are easily recycled.

Eventually, what we need is one tech company who embraces the concept of designing things to last and still make a good profit by reaching a wider market through a good environmental reputation and by replacing components only when they become defective or obsolete. That day is not far off, the market is ready – majority of Americans want to do the right thing and recycle their electronics gadgets.

Cradle to cradle designing is not a new concept, but “The Story Of Electronics” offers a fresh and easily understood perspective in creating a more sustainable paradigm for our electronics industry. Congratulations to Annie Leonard for a great educational video about electronics waste and what we all can do about it.

Tags: Computer Recycling

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