Librarians are a tech-saturated lot. My friends with the most gadgets, who are the most tech savvy are librarians (with an honorable mention to my non-librarian husband!). In the past two years I’ve seen an interesting (and wonderful) trend in my library system – patrons are seeking out help with their gadgets at the library. eBooks, smartphones and tablets are being brought in under the guise of “how do I download an eBook on this thing?” and the next thing you know, library staff are assisting with basic functionality issues with the device.
It is part of our professional know-how landscape to be up on these gadgets and to understand how to provide online library services in gadget friendly ways. However, as exciting as these times may be we have an environmental stewardship issue here that we can help impact.
The rate at which new versions of each gadget are released is causing a significant amount of device turnover. Some people trade up for newer versions, some are just tossing the old for the new.
Innovation and deflation are the watchwords of the consumer electronics industry. Even as the latest designs and technologies are released to the market, improvements are already being planned or manufactured. That innovation lowers costs is most spectacularly seen in this industry. As electronic gadgets become more sophisticated, they actually fall in price, instead of rising. This results in users upgrading their gadgets every few years or multiple times in a single year. What happens to the old gadgets is becoming a serious problem as the years pass. [The Gadgets Blog, June 2011]
The amount of e-waste generated in this world is staggering (US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
- Over 3 million tons of e-waste is generated each year
- The vast majority (82.3%) of e-waste discarded in the U.S. is still ending up in our landfills and incinerators
- 17.7 percent of e-waste goes to recyclers
Electronics typically contain many toxic chemicals, like lead, mercury, beryllium, cadmium, arsenic, and halogenated flame retardants in the plastics. These can seep into our water supply when they breakdown in landfills, particularly in older landfills with no lining. When they end up in in an incinerator these chemicals are being released into our atmosphere.
Our personal first step is to question our true need of each gadget before purchasing items for ourselves (as evidenced by comments to the shared link, “Ditch these 10 Devices in 2012,” on Sustainable Libraries’ Facebook page) but after the almost inevitable purchase of at least one device we will reach the end point of that gadgets’ useful life – either in its usefulness to our lives or in its functional capacity.
Look into whether or not your state has passed legislation related to “product stewardship,” or “takeback programs.” Here are some well known takeback and e-recycling programs:
- Apple Recycling Program
- Best Buy’s e-cycle Program
- Staples / Gazelle
- Cell Phones: EPA’s e-cycling
If you don’t have one of the big electronics retailers near you or your device’s manufacturer doesn’t offer a takeback or recycling program call your municipal or county’s solid waste management department. Often they will host events to manage recycling e-waste as a community.
Beware e-recyclers visiting your town: do your homework. 60 Minutes did a great story a few years ago on how some recyclers just ship e-waste overseas where it is not properly handled and is polluting water, soil and air in those countries. Check out Basel Action Network’s e-Stewards program and ask the recycling hauler coming to your town if they are a “Certified e-Steward Recycler.”
If you’ve taken the time to do this research, share it with your community, campus and school!