Week 5 Prompt 3: Justice

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Environmental injustices are extremely prevalent in not just the US, but the entire world. If we are not relegating our waste sites and pollution to poorer areas of our cities, we’re exporting toxicities to far worse-off developing countries– out of sight, out of mind. It makes sense from a purely economic and self-serving standpoint: if one can remove and store an unwanted, dangerous product that is otherwise very expensive and inconvenient to dispose of safely in a far more cheaper and efficient manner, we’ll do it. Our society runs on two pervading values: money and efficiency. So we relegate our poorest in areas of our city where there are statistically less food availability, green spaces, and an abundance of toxicities, pollution, and waste. It is far easier to get away with putting dangerous wastes in populations that have statistically lower education, lower political involvement, located in an where people that do have more political clout do not visit often (for aforementioned reasons, less green space, food, etc.).

One particularly good example of this is e-waste. For me, nothing embodies the concept of uninhibited/senseless consumerism and materialism than the concept of planned obsolescence and the exportation of e-waste. Planned obsolescence is the concept of planning for electronics to go ‘obsolete’ (this can mean it will wear down faster or will lack a subtle capabilities a newer version of the product will have) in time for a newer ‘better’ version of the product to be sold in its place. Thus, this generates a ton of electronics that won’t be used (waste) and not often recycled. These electronics are sent to other countries that will break down the parts to be sold or re-used. This often requires a dangerous chemical bath for the process, which is quite prevalent in China which is where a majority of e-waste is received. This causes a lot of environmental issues as you can imagine as well as health issues—some of which are probably not very easily measurable and the effects may take years to realize.

Ideally, there would be a law that would make this process illegal or at least really, really, really expensive, crippling taxes on companies that decide to export their e-waste and a requirement that whoever they sell it to must follow strict environmental and health guidelines that ensures that the equipment and the workers are treated safely and fairly (like fair trade but instead of chocolate it’s for your disassembled iPhone parts). This kind of thing just frustrates me to no end—taking something that’s already an infuriating and unnecessary trend like planned obsolescence that imprints us with materialism and then exacerbating it by burdening the most vulnerable of our population with completely avoidable, unnecessary, dangerous products.

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2 responses »

  1. I disagree with you that e-waste and planned obsolescence are an example of uninhibited consumerism. Though this practice continues in some ways, technology is advancing so quickly that it is much less of an issue than it has been in the past. Technology now becomes obsolete because newer technology is far better, and innovation in software often requires more advanced hardware. I believe that our technological developments are outstripping planned obsolescence, part of which has to do with the influx of young entrepreneurs and startups in the tech industry. If the market were still wholly dominated by tech giants, I think your argument would be spot on.

    I absolutely agree that technology should have safer and more efficient ways of being recycled without harm to the salvagers. We have the capability to make technology much easier to be broken down, and it is a shame that we are not developing new tech in this way.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed your post because I found your post to extremely insightful especially when it came to coming up with the solution for e-waste. In fact, the topic of e-waste and how to go about diminishing it in America was a topic I was recently discussing with a classmate. We came up with the idea of “e-waste reusing” which played on the consumer’s constant need to want the “latest and greatest electronic gadget.” With a national E-waste Reusing program , the old, but still usable electronics could be donated to schools and households that are in dire need of them instead of being thrown in a landfill. Maybe some kind of incentive such as a tax deduction, could be given to the donator in hopes that more people will be willing to become more sustainable. The only question is what to do about the electronics that are obsolete? Should we require the companies that make these products to take back the obsolete products and make it their responsibility to store this waste in an environmentally safe manner? Should the government hold these companies responsible? I highly praise your proposal of a law that bans Planned Obsolescence but will the law be enough? I don’t really think the law will be enough because the law doesn’t eliminate the average consumer’s need to want the “latest and greatest electronic gadget.” Sure, the gadgets that the electronic companies will make under the influence of the ban would last longer, but that wouldn’t stop the companies from modernizing and updating their gadgets in order to reel in customers and profit. Thus, the cycle of e-waste would continue.

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