High Tech Trash: Notes

More notes here

In this book, Elizabeth Grossman reveals the tangible effects of e-waste and the environmental and health impacts of high-tech manufacturing that is out of sight for many people. She writes “each device has a story that begins in mines, refineries, factories, rivers, aquifers and it ends on pallets, in dumpsters, and in landfills around the world.” In her book she goes to the physical sites where the materials of our 21st century technology are sourced from. She digs into specific materials such as gold, copper and mercury. 

Reading ‘High Tech Trash’ helped me get an overview of all the points to consider: a.) manufacturing – mining sites and semiconductor facilities, b.) brominated flame retardants, c.) disposal process – what electronic recyclers, smelters, processing facilities do, d.) legislations – Basel Convention Treaty that US hasn’t ratified yet

As an example, she mentions that all our laptops contain gold. Gold is dispersed throughout the circuit boards as connectors, transistors, semiconductors and other components. The reason gold is heavily used in electronics is because it is a good conductor of electricity and it doesn’t corrode or tarnish. Mining gold usually takes place in a huge open pit mine, many of which are located in South Africa, Australia, US, China, Russia. One of the major environmental consequences of mining gold is cyanide leaching. Cyanide is sprayed on the raw ore in order to isolate gold. There are liners placed under enormous piles of ore but leaks and failures still occur. The leaked cyanide causes severe toxic contamination of the surrounding soils, streams, groundwater and everything in the local food web. This also relates to the issue of dumping mine waste that has made surface and groundwater undrinkable and turned water acidic and lethal to the aquatic wildlife.   

Here are some memorable quotes that I’ve noted down as I’ve been reading: 

  • “A 2001 EPA report estimated that discarded electronics account for approximately 70 percent of the heavy metals and 40 percent of the lead now found in U.S. landfills”
  • “As we become increasingly dependent on the rapid electronic transfer of information, while telling ourselves that we are moving beyond the point where economies depend on the obvious wholesale exploitation of natural resources, we are also creating a new world of toxic pollution that may prove far more difficult to clean up than any we have known before.”
  • “We have-until very recently-overlooked the fact that miniaturization is not dematerialization.”
  • “…in 2005 revealed that 95 percent of American consumers did not know the meaning of “e-waste” and 58 percent were not aware of an electronics recycling program in their community.”
  • “A typical desktop computer can contain nearly 30 pounds of metal…”

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