TLDR vs: With this interactive, the objective is to communicate: (1) Digital devices require an inordinate amount of material and labor to mine and manufacture. From the mining sites to the clean room, there are thousands of hands, chemicals and minerals that make a technological product possible. In the process of creating them there is also large amounts of waste generated that give rise to health and environmental issues. (2) None of America’s current electronics recycling options are optimal – we need better solutions for recycling that don’t take for granted the insane amount of material and labor needed to create them
Main points to communicate:
The digital devices we use require an inordinate amount of labor, materials and waste to make which also give rises to environmental and health issues. Despite all the details, negative consequences, and work that goes into the creation of tech, our current options for recycling is neither sustainable nor sensical.
Our current options of disposing includes:
(A) Toss it in the regular trash, which will then end up in the landfill or incinerator. Both these options are harmful for the environment and human health because the hazardous chemicals, such as mercury, will leach into the environment, soil and air.
(B) The other option is to recycle, which is easy to think it is the ‘right’ thing to do. However, all the elements in a device don’t get dismantled and eventually these chips and electronic components that took so much effort to create get shredded and converted to material feedstock. All the hard work, precision and materials are simply shredded. Another possibility that happens when we recycle our devices is that recyclers could be exporting to other countries (i.e. Hong Kong, Ghana) with lax labor and environmental laws. This exportation of electronic waste is awful because people in these countries are scavenging and dismantling electronic devices in extremely unsafe ways (i.e. burning the wires to retrieve the metal inside, unsoldering by melting, etc) that are toxic to both their bodies and their environment (i.e. case study in Guiyu, China). U.S. hasn’t made the exportation of electronic products illegal yet, so recyclers are able to export without regulation and it becomes a behind-the-door system that is hard to track. There is an international treaty called the Basel Convention that makes the exporting and transboundary movements of hazardous waste illegal. However and stupidly, the United States is not currently a party to the Basel Convention. They signed the agreement in 1990, but has not yet ratified the Convention.