Chapter 18: The Global Waste Trade and Environmental Justice Struggles
David Naguib Pellow The problem: electronic waste For most people, the word ‘pollution’ conjures up images of smoke stacks, oil slicks in the Atlantic Ocean, or overﬂowing garbage dumps. Many US residents tend to go about their lives believing that environmental problems are ‘out there’ and disconnected from their daily routines. Unfortunately, the electronics that people use every hour of the day are also responsible for much of the world’s pollution. The average US household owns 25 consumer electronics products, and since people typically replace these items in very short cycles, they create an enormous amount of electronic waste or e-waste. E-waste is the most rapidly growing waste stream in the world, and experts project continued growth into the foreseeable future. European studies estimate that the volume of e-waste is increasing by three to ﬁve percent per year, which is almost three times faster than the municipal waste stream is growing generally.1 In the USA, 315 million computers became obsolete between 1997 and 2004 and about 100 000 every day since. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 130 million cell phones were discarded in 2005, resulting in 65 000 tons of e-waste. This creates a combined 300 000 tons of electronic junk annually. In all, an estimated 80% of our electronic waste ends up improperly disposed of in US landﬁlls and incinerators, or recycled by prison labor under hazardous conditions (44 million pounds of electronic waste were recycled by prison labor in 2004), or shipped overseas, where some...
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