Waste and Waste Management: Reading Notes

“Waste and Waste Management” by Joshua Reno

More notes: here

This article is a general overview of all the practical and conceptual issues surrounding waste. It acknowledges the different types of people and forms of waste labor and waste structures. The big picture is that waste can tell us a lot. It is entangled with our lives, the lives of non human creatures, and the planet we share

Couldn’t have said it better:

“As they circulate and deform, wastes mix with people and places, with which they mutually transform or become together. As with exchange practices, acts of rejection, remaking and reuse change people and their relations with each other as much as they change the objects themselves.”

“Waste management makes things disappear by moving them elsewhere, and, like most infrastructures of liberal governance, waste management is considered most successful to the extent that its workings and flows remain invisible. Waste management infrastructure is thus bio–political…”

“For waste to end up somewhere else, regardless of what is done with it, requires labor.”

“When people and places become associated with waste, they may be seen as waste themselves, that is as disposable and abject subjects without potential”

“The most common form of re use throughout the world is the informal recycling that occurs as part of informal economies in and around urban settings and their dumps. In the privileged corners of the Global North, exotic images of poor children scavenging on dumps have become a popular object of cosmopolitan consumption and moral concern. This denies the informal recycling that occurs among economically and politically marginal figures in wealthier societies. Children picking through dumps in Kenya or Brazil are more likely to be depicted in global media than is the informal waste recycling by homeless Californian drug addicts, middle class landfill workers in Michigan or dumpster diving anarchists’ collectives in many cities throughout the world”

“Waste circulates in and bit back as a result of nonhuman flows and divides.”

“Waste, in all its variety and complexity, should serve as a reminder that we can never fully grasp the planetary processes to which we contribute, nor can we assume that they are easily managed”

“Engineering techniques of waste management are now and have always been as much moral and political as they are mechanical and mathematical”

Interview with Environmental Service Group: Notes

Notes: here

What I found out was:
The Environmental Service Group is actually a transfer facility. Sunnking sends their electronics with hazardous waste to the transfer facility.

  • Transfer facility:  ship it to wear it needs to go. Don’t actually store or get rid of it
  • station but they are not disposed of there
  • come in but sent out in bulk loads 
  •  Sunnking breaks down all the electronics and sends their electronics with hazardous waste to Environmental Service Group
  • 4 different facilities that they ship it out to Ohio and Michigan
  • How do the other places dispose of the hazardous waste?
    • a lot of hazardous waste gets incinerated
    • fuels blending, liquid injection, metal recovery
  • for hazardous waste – can only be stored up to 10 days. Within 10 days it has to be shipped.
  • all stored in DOT shipping containers (department of transportation)
  • They ship to: Environmental Enterprise Inc.
    • In Cincinnati, Ohio and Columbus, Ohio
    • Different disposal methods that they use
    • eeienv.com

Made to Break: Notes

This book is such a good read and while it doesn’t focus solely on electronic waste – it is eye opening to understand how planned obsolescence started and how this business model still effects us today.

In “Made to Break”, Giles Slade examines the history of how obsolescence came to existence. Before the Industrial Revolution gave rise to manufacturing, society was not used to making more than it needed. With these machines that overproduced, companies needed a way to figure out how to stand out amongst the millions more options amongst consumers. That’s where packaging design, branding and logos came in. By placing a trademark symbol, consumers would think that products were of a certain quality.

The culture of disposable products came with the rise of machines. What used to be reused many times, was now made and promoted to be disposable. For example, handkerchief became disposable tissues, pocket watches became so easy to make they were $1 at some point, razors for shaving used to last a long time but were then converted to disposable ones. Fun fact – condoms used to be made of sheep intestines and would be reused! Then came the invention of rubber and rubber condoms! Who would’ve thought?!

The point is, companies advertised products in a way that society came to value and appreciate a product to be convenient and disposable. This is all a response to their worry of not being able to sell all that they were able to make.

More notes: here

Interactive Main Themes

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. 

Recycle, incinerate or landfill? What are the best options for electronic goods? Notes

More notes on this paper: here


When an electronic item is recycled in America, it either becomes shredded and sorted into mineral feedstock or it is exported (without consumers knowing) to other countries where it is scavenged for pieces in extremely unsafe ways that are both damaging to human health and the environment. Seeing as how bad the exporting option is, I have thought about what happens if it does just end up in landfills? Would it be that bad? Answer is yes – it would be bad. I don’t know if it’s worse than exporting to countries with lax labor and environmental laws, but it’s pretty bad. If e-waste was in landfill there are many potentially harmful substances that could leach through into the ground or evaporate into the atmosphere. Electrical products account for 40% of the lead found in landfills.

Which is the lesser of the two evils – landfill or incineration?

Incineration saves space but the pollution that incineration produces is harmful. The pollution that incinerators produce especially when harmful materials like Lead and Mercury are burnt which is the case in e-waste. Most of the chemicals are toxic and harmful in nature and also contain heavy metals. Incinerators are more harmful than the exhaust coming from cars because the low concentration of metals emitted by incinerators is very toxic for metals such as Cadmium. The smaller the size of particles the more harmful it is to human health.

How much of e-waste is recycled?

As I am attempting to diagram the electronic trash network, I realize that I still don’t have a clear idea of the percentage of electronics that are discarded in regular trash versus recycled. I also don’t know what the consequences are when electronics are in landfills or incinerators. All I know is that it can’t be good for human health or the environment. So, I set about trying to do a little more research on that today. Below are notes and links that help answer the question of how much of electronic waste ends up in landfills or incinerators.



  • Between 2003 and 2005, as much as 85 percent of the disposed electronics in the U.S. went straight in the trash and headed directly to local landfills or incinerators [source: EPA]. Worldwide, as much as 50 million tons of old electronics are discarded annually [source: Carroll].
  • “In the U.S., e-waste accounts for approximately 4 percent of the total amount of trash, but it contributes about 40 percent of the lead content in landfills. Of the other heavy metals in landfills, e-waste accounts for about 70 percent of that pollution [source: Downing]. “
  • The dangers of discarded, old computers stem from what’s inside them. Your typical piece of electronic equipment — especially one like a PC with many circuit boards — may contain up to 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms) of lead, along with lower levels of mercury, arsenic, cadmium, beryllium and other toxic chemicals [source: Downing]. These elements are all toxic at varying exposure levels. There is also a fairly poisonous family of flame-retardant chemicals used in most electronics. 

Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia

More notes: here

After watching this film which was made over a decade ago, I was curious about whether US is still not a party of the Basel Convention. What I found is disturbing: “The United States is not currently a party to the Basel Convention. Although the United States signed the agreement on March 22, 1990, it has not yet ratified the Convention. Therefore, the Basel Convention does not apply in the United States (64 FR 44722; August 17, 1999).” Does this mean the US can still legally export its toxic electronic parts to other countries? Yes, it does. Until US follows the EU’s model by complying to the Basel Convention to not export to other countries, we are postponing dealing with the issues of very toxic materials in our electronics and wastefulness in our consumption habits.

After some digging into what has happened legally since this documentary came out, I found that Ban was adopted in 1994 to address the export of hazardous waste to developing countries. However, ban opponents said the agreement wasn’t a legally binding part of the Basel Convention. US, along with other major countries, have still not ratified the Convention. But now US will have to ratify before Dec. 5, 2019 because now more than 3/4 majority of countries have ratified the bill. US will need to ratify unless it wants to further isolate itself from the global community.

From this Ban article, it reported that: “Still noticeably absent from the list of countries having ratified the ban are the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, India, Brazil, and Mexico. The US produces the most waste per-capita, but has failed to ratified the Basel Convention and has actively opposed the Ban Amendment. According to BAN, this lack of adherence to international waste trade rules has allowed unscrupulous US “recyclers” to export many hundreds of containers of hazardous electronic waste each week to developing countries for so-called recycling. This primitive recycling involves the burning, melting and chemically stripping electronic waste by desperate, unprotected workers in highly polluting operations. Also, of great concern today is the fact that the vast majority of shipping companies send their old ships, full of lead, hazardous asbestos, PCBs, and flammable gases and oils to be run up on beaches in South Asia where they create pollution, occupational disease and death due to fires and explosions.”

Links tegarding Basel Convention and legislation around recycling:
Link to the Basel Convention on Hazardous Wastes (2001-2009)
Basel Ban on Hazardous Waste Approved 25 Years After its Passage
Over 180 countries — not including the US — agree to restrict global plastic waste trade
Global Ban on Exporting Hazardous Waste to Developing Countries Becomes Law

Lenovo Laptop Teardown – v1

Began my laptop teardown using my parent’s old laptop! Used a microscope to take close up photos – fun stuff! My objective with the teardown is to help me get a sense of all the components that make a laptop. Then, try to find each component’s data sheet, then find out how each of the components are made.

and this is just the keyboard part of the laptop!

Interview with Sunnking: Notes

Interview questionnaire: here
Interview answers: here

Talking with the representative of Sunnking helped me get a better grasp of the large and complicated network involved with the recycling of electronic products.

Key organizations involved with electronic recycling: a.) Drop-off or refurbishing organization (i.e. Gowanus e-waste warehouse), b.) Haulers (i.e. Sunnking uses their own 3rd party carriers to transport materials), c.) Electronics recyclers (i.e. Sunnking), d.) Brokers, e.) Smelters, f.) Ring mills, g.) End of life facilities, h.) Company that specializes in hazardous waste disposals

After speaking with Sunnking and Tom Igoe I am definitely feeling the need to diagram this network of organizations involved with electronics recycling. Keep in mind, this is all only for recycling. I have yet to figure out what happens when they are dumped in landfills or end up in incinerators.