What the Future Holds for the Issue of E-waste

The issue of planned obsolescence leading to toxic waste today seems to be in between the realizing the cost of progress and the gradual decline stage in regards to the attention issue cycle. However it is a unique environmental issue because the world is in a state where new technology is constantly coming out and people are becoming more and more dependent on technology. Because of this technological dependency and rapid advances in technology it difficult to predict where the issue of e-waste falls in the attention issue cycle because e-waste will be more prolific with new technology.

Keeping the stage e-waste is in mind, one must examine how the future of e-waste is reported. In order to eliminate the possibility of e-waste entering the post-problem stage soon, the media are reporting in a way that seems to recruit citizens and companies to take action and motivates this action through communicating the extreme risks if citizens don’t take action to fix it.

Although it is an older article, the Environmental Update report on Electronic Waste: A new Challenge For A New Millennium tells readers that even if they won’t directly see the effects of e-waste, the next generation will. Meaning that their children and grandchildren will be ”buried under mountains of discarded computers, computer monitors, and televisions.” This quote implies that if humans don’t want to put their loved ones at major risk in the future, then the e-waste issue needs to be addressed and fixed now, tapping into peoples emotions in hope of bringing about change.

The actual harmful effects in the future, however, seem to be a bit complex in the eyes of the media, because it is always hard to predict what will happen. If it’s too difficult to predict then perhaps it shouldn’t be predicted. As we have seen in other environmental issues, like global warming, conflicting information is likely to cause confusion among citizens and have an end result of the post-problem stage.

The Bizcovering article Electronic Waste and Its Effects ends saying, “If we don’t stop it, our world will be in danger and we will run out of mineral reserves.” This the only main harm of e-waste that this article mentions, perhaps because it is from a business journal and this is what readers of this website are interested in. However, it’s human nature to be concerned about self and one’s own health so by this article not reporting on the effects e-waste has on human’s health, a reader may be skewed to believe that e-waste will only affect the mineral reserves and therefore not care as much about the topic.

The Future Directions article on the website e-waste, however, covers multiple areas of concern if e-waste continues. It also explains in more detail how and what about e-waste causes environmental problems rather then just stating that it will. The article describes that the toxins in e-waste affect both humans and the environment, and explains what it is exactly that is in e-waste that is harmful.

The article further makes the profound statement that recycling may not be the answer. This statement arises many questions since in all of the previous articles examined, implementing a recycling program seemed to be the main answer to decreasing e-waste in the future. A message like this most likely leaves consumers, the government, and manufacturers in a state of confusion as to what the right approach is for overcoming e-waste.

It would be helpful for readers of this article if the author expanded on this idea rather than ending the article on this note. This shows either a lack of information on the topic, or perhaps that it was more of an opinion of the author due to their lack of support to back up the statement made.

Researching the future of e-waste has posed to be quite difficult, most likely because it is hard to predict the future of any environmental issue. However, the article from Pr-inside.com titled Global E-waste Crisis is Worsening, but the Tide Will Turn in 2015, Says Pike Research has seemed to be the most informative on clearly estimating what the future of e-waste will look like based on research.

Although a reader should be aware that any type of research with a prediction as its conclusion will most likely not be 100% accurate, it is a start to tackling e-waste’s future issues. The research conducted showed that “…the e-waste crisis will worsen over the next several years until 2015, when volume will peak at 73 million metric tons.  However, the firm forecasts that global volumes will decline in 2016 and beyond, as a number of key e-waste initiatives begin to turn the tide.”

That statement gives people a sense of hope even though things will have to get worse until they get better. Such a bold prediction also poses as a problem however.   This optimism that global volumes will decline in 2016 may lead readers to think that they do not need to change their ways if it will just get better seemingly on its own.

The article addresses this potential issue of people not needing to change by saying that the, “Key weapons in the war against e-waste include government regulation, electronics industry initiatives, and consumer awareness.” Making readers realize that actual action needs to take place if we want the prediction of a decline in 2016 to actually become a reality. It later discusses that that it is easy for consumers to neglect the issue due to holes in the electronic recycling supply chain, and by making consumers realize this the idea of a necessity for action and awareness becomes much clearer to readers who may believe it is not their responsibility to fix the issue.

Addressing a prediction of the future and how to achieve it makes it easier for people to take action better than an article that makes simple statements about how e-waste will harm the world and fails to give a timeline of what the future holds.

The future of e-waste is up for debate. However, when the media creates a visual timeline, presents actions that need to occur, and reveals what e-waste actually harms, readers are able to understand the issue more deeply and think about starting to make changes now so that the future can look brighter then predicted. The end result of doing this will hopefully keep the issue of e-waste in the current attention issue stage rather than allowing it to fall in to the post-problem stage.

 

E-waste in Colorado

Prior blogs have looked at how planned obsolescence and consumer e-waste is being reported on a more national and global level. However, many times solutions to environmental problems have to start small and work their way up (SIMBY: Start In My Backyard) in order to make an impact. Knowing this, it is important to look at how planned obsolescence leading to toxic waste is being reported on a smaller level in Colorado and even in a green place like Boulder. Because local media coverage reaches fewer people than that of national, issues at a local level are more easily observed, and local issues are more personal, which allows for media to more easily tap into the emotions of its readers.

One key aspect of local media is its ability to truly hit home with consumers by reporting on environmental issues that directly affect them. A national article that simply discusses the issue as a whole and shows statistics that readers may not understand is unable to get on the same emotional level with the consumers.

The Denver Post article Government Auctions in Colorado Feed Global Trade in Toxic E-waste demonstrates the ability of local media to cover a topic like e-waste in a more informative way rather than simply pointing fingers or using scare tactics. This article points out and explains the issue of e-waste as well as what people are currently doing in Colorado to help with the issue. The report is a way to inform readers that it is an issue that directly affects them and that others are taking small steps to prevent it. The article shows individuals and small local businesses that if your neighbor can help than you can as well and demonstrates the ways in which one can help lessen the amount of e-waste.

This article directly addresses the idea and practices that local citizens and companies are taking that is either unknowingly adding to e-waste or attempting to fix this environmental issue in regards to electronics and how they are disposing of them. The most important part about this section is its ability to inform the public through interviews, information about fellow Coloradoans, and questions that individuals can ask when it comes to disposing of their electronics.

Local media is able to conduct more personal interviews and studies, on e-waste and Denver Post found that “… not only were environmental officials unaware of the practices, the issue is so complex that regulators had trouble sorting out what’s legal and what’s not. In the end, though, regulators said that backyard recycling was “absolutely illegal.” If officials are unclear about the law then one must ask who is clear on the law and further what is the duty of a citizen to uphold that law?

We see scare tactic many times in the media, and although this article contains some, the appeal to fear is much more subtle and personal than portrayed in many other articles.  It talks about State Guidelines for the toxicity of e-waste and says that it can cause, “long-term consequences to the human nervous system.” Looking at state guidelines is very important to local readers because research shows that people are more likely to trust their local/state government than the officials in Washington, and therefore will trust these guidelines more.

E-waste is not something that many citizens know or think about, and this article shows that it is the duty of local media to inform citizens on issues that directly affect them as a nation and at the state level as well.

After seeing the informative approach to reporting e-waste conducted by The Denver Post, it is interesting to now analyze how the media in Boulder, a town that is considered very green and not afraid to show it, reports e-waste. A reflection of Boulder’s strong environmental views is prevalent through the muckraking journalism seen in the Daily Camera article E-waste Investigation, Part 1: Coloradans’ ‘recycled’ computer can end up in the third-world, local landfills.

At first glance this article is very different from that of The Denver Post article with its strong visual imagery of e-waste in other countries and local citizens disposing of their electronics. These seemingly melodramatic visuals appeal to readers’ emotions because they allow them to picture themselves as a direct cause to such an environmental killer.

The Daily Camera article also visually represents the states and their policy on recycling of electronics through an interactive map, whereas The Denver Post article simply states that 13 states have any kind of ban on sending household e-waste to landfills. By using a visual the reader is likely to be more shocked by the high number of states that do not have a ban on dumping harmful electronics and further the reader will most likely care and want to take action more.

It reminds readers that they may not see electronic waste everyday but that it is out there and a major problem for many in the world. The journalist even furthers the emotional impact of the visual imagery by describing common images associated with e-waste such as, “Burning piles of plastic, children blackened by poisonous dirt.” The average consumer may not be familiar with these kinds of images showing that the author is only further persuading the reader to associate e-waste with a visual representation that to many is detrimental.

Even though this report is on the same issue as that reported in The Denver Post, it seems that the journalist incorporates more personal opinion throughout the article through her rhetoric. In direct comparison to how The Denver Post article described how state laws address e-waste are confusing by using examples and interviews, the Daily Camera article says, “state laws and regulations are confusing at best and sometimes seem to do the opposite of what was intended.” The article bashes the state and the role that it has played rather than showing how the laws are confusing.

The article further taps into the emotions of its readers by reassuring them that they are good citizens that recycle more than many other states. It then goes on to calling Colorado citizens’ efforts a “struggle” but that they are not alone. Further explaining that other organizations are also struggling, reassuring them that there are others that are trying to help, allowing the reader to be uplifted for a moment and feel good about their efforts.

The journalist ends the article discussing the uncertain destination of the electronics that are recycled, ending the Boulder reader on an uncertain note as well and most likely influencing them to care more about the topic and become more involved with the issue of e-waste. If promoting such involvement is the goal, then the journalist’s apparent agenda of causing promoting citizens to take action is fulfilled. Through strong visual imagery, rhetoric, and blending of opinion and fact, this article is able to tap in to the Boulder reader’s emotions in order to shape agenda in regards to e-waste.

Whether the purpose of an article is to promote a change or inform the citizens, local newspapers are able to affect readers on a much more personal and emotional level. By knowing that the issue is something that directly impacts their lifestyles and their health due to the effects of e-waste on a local level, consumers are more likely to be more deeply affected and concerned.

 

The Blame Game

With issues that affect a mass amount of people, such as environmental issues, human nature seems to need to blame a specific someone or something for the cause of the issue. Because it is hard to prove exactly who or what has caused them, environmental issues usually evolve into “the blame game.” This blame however does not simply pop into consumer’s minds. Rather the media many times create and provoke blame through the way they present information and how frequently they present it.

The issue of who to blame is vital when it comes to looking at product obsolescence and its contribution to e-waste. Does one blame the consumers and their desire and need for the newest, often unnecessary, technology? Is it the government’s responsibility to get involved? Or is it the fault of the companies who continually create new versions of their products and manufacture them so that they will only last so long?

When researching the issue of planned obsolescence, one could be easily skewed to believe that it is the fault of the companies and is part of their business strategy. A simple Google search of planned obsolescence brings up articles with headlines that contain words like “ethics” and “designed to fail,” implying that the blame for e-waste should be put on the electronic companies and their business tactics.

The issue briefing book titled E-WASTE:  The Exploding Global Electronic Waste Crisis is a perfect example of the media’s placing sole responsibility for e-waste on the government and electronic companies rather than on consumers. This book portrays citizens as weak, textually and visually, with images of citizens being “consumed” by a wave of e-waste and words like “dazzled,” to describe how consumers feel about new technology.

The main image that this book provokes is the message that “… e-waste is a looming tsunami, already spilling over into our landfills and incinerators, with no end in sight.” And perhaps the most shocking thing for a reader is that this issue briefing explains e-waste as the “fastest growing waste stream in the U.S.” The article uses this metaphor as a segue into explaining how it is the local government’s responsibility to cope with e-waste.

This book only furthers to point the finger at the government and its organizations when it says that e-waste will escalade by the FCC mandating a transition to digital television. But perhaps the most powerful message this article shares about the federal government and its lack of concern about e-waste is the article’s bolding of this point: “Federal laws make it legal for households and most small business to throw most e-waste into municipal landfills. States are passing laws to keep e-waste out of trash.” The article clearly states who citizens should blame for the problem.

The article closes by saying that the way we can solve e-waste lies in the hands of the producers and their responsibility to recycle and to ban global e-waste dumping. By closing with this, the journalist is placing the issue of e-waste in the hands of the government and the producers and paints consumers as helpless and incapable of fixing the issue.

Electronic manufacturers are further blamed in the video The Story of Stuff and the article “Story of Stuff” Crusade Takes on E-Waste and Planned Obsolescence does. The creator Annie Leonard has a clear opinion that companies are at fault and that they make electronics that are “designed for the dump.” She believes that the companies know how dangerous the products they make are but they are just not sharing that information with the consumers.

Her solution to the problem is for companies to “make products that aren’t toxic, that last longer, and that have replicable parts.” All of these solutions to e-waste rely on the companies fixing their products, not the government or the consumers themselves fixing or changing habits.

By placing all the blame on electronic manufacturers, a reader or viewer is likely to be outraged and want to take action, which is most likely the point. If they were ill informed on the topic of e-waste, then this information would most likely lead them to be outraged with big companies and their practices, leaving them blind to the other entities involved with e-waste.

Their are many other articles that talk a lot about companies being at fault for e-waste and fail to mention consumers’ role in the process. One article however, titled The Light Bulb Conspiracy: The Story of Planned Obsolescence, based off the documentary The Light Bulb Conspiracy, more accurately reports the issue by putting blame on both the electronic manufacturers and the consumers. It is much easier to place blame rather than to assume responsibility. So companies and consumers tend to be informed on both points of view.

The Light Bulb Conspiracy is very unique in that its primary intention seems to be to inform readers rather than to form an opinion for them. Almost all articles are written with an agenda, and this article is no different; however, its agenda is to inform consumers and companies of how big of an issue e-waste is and give recommendations about the kinds of things they can both do in order to make it less of a problem and in the end help the environment.

The article says that, “the electrical and electronics industry needs to change from a ‘selling’ to a ‘leasing’ model.” And that “we (consumers) must resist our urge to go in for the latest fad or design, and stay off the treadmill of rapid product upgrades.” It is important to note that companies make new products knowing that consumers will purchase them, and that consumers need to do their research in order to learn what products will last and, further, to lessen their contribution to e-waste.

The issue of e-waste and who is at fault is a hot topic for debate. However, the media must take responsibility to cover all sides to the story and discuss what every player in the system can do to take action. Blaming one entity without considering other possibilities does not bring about reform.

Apple Moving Forward

The previous blog revealed that the media play a huge role in how citizens perceive the world and current issues. The media affect how we live our daily lives based on articles they choose to publish and from what angle they choose to address the topics. Numerous articles have exposed how and why Apple is not so green when it comes to disposing its products. By exposing Apple’s bad environmental habits, the media and many environmental organizations were able to change the way Apple makes and disposes of its electronic products in order to better their reputation. How Apple has reacted to much bad publicity in regards to e-waste further provides evidence of the extreme impact that the media have, whether it is on individuals or on huge corporations.

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In Apple’s eyes, its e-waste perception has been such an issue that it was willing to discuss it on its own website. The article that Apple released in 2006 titled A Greener Apple discusses its plans as a company in the future to become greener.

This article appears on Apple’s website and is likely to be propaganda. One also must keep in mind before reading the article that it is about actions that Apple will be taking in regards to making its products more environmental in the future rather than what it is actually doing now, and some of the environmental actions mentioned have been forced on the company by law rather than by its own choice. It is easy for companies to say what they will do in the future. The difficult part is actually implementing the actions. By placing the focus on future actions, Apple makes it hard for a reader to truly know if the company is sincere or whether it is simply trying to temporarily clear its name.

From the opening of the article, Apple claims that it has “…been criticized by some environmental organizations for not being a leader in removing toxic chemicals from its new products…” According to The Economist article discussed in the prior blog, at the time this article was written Apple was not only not a leader in removing toxic chemicals but in the bottom four of electronic manufacturers in eliminating toxic waste and taking-back and recycling materials.  Failing to mention how poorly it ranked compared to competitors in regards to contributing to e-waste should be an automatic red flag to consumers who are informed on the technological waste issue.

Many consumers are not informed and would not recognize this hypocrisy on Apple’s part. The lack of scientific and technological knowledge among consumers is a huge problem in regard to how much consumers understand reporting in the media. Apple does a fairly good job in this article to help the average reader understand the environmental issues related to its products. It explains terms like LCD, DecaBDE, and CRT to better give the readers an understanding of what they are, why these items are an issue, and what Apple can do to help make these items greener in its products.

However, when going into detail about the issues with its products and what it can do to help, Apple reveals that it is a company and needs to market itself and maintain the reputation of its brand name. Apple shows that it is concerned with the idea of maintaining a good brand image through comparing itself through time and currently to other companies. It even says, “By 2010, Apple may be recycling significantly more than either Dell or HP as a percentage of past sales weight”(A Greener Apple). Like this prediction, many of the comparisons made throughout this article may be based off solid information, but they are still simply predictions and need to be read with doubt in mind.

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Because a reader should leave this article having doubt about how much Apple really is doing to become greener, one should read into how green Apple is in more recent times, and see if its goals, or work towards its goals, have actually been met. The awareness of e-waste among consumers has only grown with time, and knowing this Apple has continuously put effort in to making itself greener, or at least appear that it is attempting to be.

Apple released another article on its website in regards to e-waste titled The Story Behind Apple’s Environmental Footprint that differs from the one released four years earlier. In this article Apple more extensively examines, shows and discusses its total carbon footprint, manufacturing, transportation, product use, recycling, and facilities. Within these categories it breaks down how much it is impacting the environment and what it has done or is doing to help to reduce its carbon footprint in these areas. When reading this article, readers still need to keep the same possible bias in mind; however, this article differs in that it actually shows how harmful Apple has been, which is a hard thing to do for a company and one must give Apple credit for this risky move.

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Even though it is great that Apple has released this information, there are always going to be issues of agenda setting when the company itself is releasing the information. In this case one major issue is the graphical depictions as a device for comparisons. Many of them make it appear that Apple products do hurt the environment but that they are not the only thing that is contributing to e-waste and there are other common products that consumers use, like light bulbs, that are worse. So Apple attempts to further improve its image by bringing into question other companies’ products.

Also this article is similar to the one released in 2006 in that it indeed goes into great detail about the moves that Apple has been making to become more green, but it also still talks about what things that it can do and makes future projections in regards to being recycling, which are once again simply estimates and not raw data.

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Examining these two reports published on Apple’s website shows consumers the drastic changes that Apple has been making in order to become greener. Further Apple also help to set an example and to give hope to making technology greener and show how far the media’s creation of awareness can go.

The media often get a bad rap for how and what they report. However, in the case of e-waste and Apple, bringing awareness of the effect that Apple has on the environment has helped to change the way Apple does business across many fields and will hopefully only continue to help prevent the impact that technology has on the environment.

With the rise of technology also came the issue of where to discard the electronics once they are broken or once consumers are tired of using them. It only took a short period of time for their to be a surplus of unwanted hazardous electric products, or e-waste, disposed in landfills all over the world. When looking at e-waste, and how it is portrayed in the media, one must go back to beginning of the 20th century when technology started to boom and the issue of e-waste started to arise.  By examining articles written over the last 15 years, one can see how the issue of e-waste came about and then later understand to how it rose to become the fastest-growing component of the municipal waste stream worldwide.  Apple is a mogul in technological advances and the electronic industry in general. Being such a powerful company however causes major problems for Apple when e-waste became a big deal because it was only natural to blame a technological tycoon. According to Greenpeace, the giant technological trendsetter, Apple, has been lagging behind in setting a good example to prevent e-waste because its products have short life spans and contain very hazardous chemicals. Although these facts are true, the media presents them, and like many other facts, in a misleading way.  Because the articles contain few actual facts readers form their opinions based on the bias of the author rather than the facts themselves. It is the job of the media and journalists, although it does not always occur, to give readers the option to form their own opinion. Such agenda setting and scare tactics are prevalent in regards to the issues of e-waste, causing readers to believe the information presented, or lack there of, in articles explaining Apple and its role in contributing to electronic waste.

Natural News

Apple seems to come out with a new or updated product at least every year and consumers have proved how hungry they are for the newest and best technology because they are willing to buy these new versions.  An article written by Natural News in 2007 explains how bad Apple ranks when it comes to contributing to toxic waste in countries like China and India. It starts by saying that Apple ranks worst out 14 leading electronic manufacturers; however, it fails to mention the names of the other 13 companies, which further emphasizes Apple and puts it in the worst light possible The article goes on to compare Apple to the manufacturer Lenovo, which ranked eight out of ten on the scale of commitment to take back and recycle its products in any country, whereas Apple scores and 2.7 out f ten. Once again, however, the Natural News compares Apple to only one company that happens to have a high rating. Not to say that Apple’s low number is a good thing, but it is much more shocking when it is compared to only one other company rather than all 14 in the study.  Another weakness that this article demonstrates is a lack of scientific information. It states “… many electronics are made with heavy metals or other dangerous substances”(Gutierrez). It never defines “dangerous.” Many things in this world are dangerous and harmful in different ways, so a logical reader should ask, what is it exactly is dangerous and what does that mean? This shows either that the author does not actually know what it means to say that Apple technology is dangerous or that he does not believe that his readers with understand if he does explain it.

The Economist

In 2006 The Economist reported on the similar issue asking How Green Is Your Apple? Due to The Economist’s reputation for having a well-educated audience, the author opens the article by explaining what the issue of e-waste is and what the government is doing to control it. It then goes in to describe what materials the electronics contain that are harmful to citizens and gives a chart of all 14 electronic manufactures
 in order to compare all of them to each other. When presented like this, Apple, still looks poor in the department of e-waste and recycling, but it does not look like the e-waste leader, dramatically worse than other manufacturers. Another very beneficial aspect of this article is that it looks at what the environmental lobby group, Greenpeace, is attempting to do to put an end to the issue of e-waste. The author acknowledges that everyone may not agree with Greenpeace’s methodology in suggesting that companies adopt a “precautionary principle,” its attempt at creating rules, and its ranking system, but goes on to explain the merit behind what they are trying to do. By doing this, the author allows readers to choose whether to agree with Greenpeace or to form their own opinions.

This article does not dwell on Apple’s low ranking until the end of the article, meaning the reader first has background knowledge before learning about how green Apple is. It explains the reasons that Apple got a poor score when ranked quoting Zeina Al-Hajj of Greenpeace “…it has not eliminated such chemicals all together, has not set time limits for doing so, does not provide a full list of regulated substances and is insufficiently precautionary for Greenpeace’s tastes.” Compared to the other article, The Economist explains what caused Apple’s low score, rather then just saying that it received a low score.

This article written by The Economist does a much better job of presenting the facts and backing them up than the Natural News article because The Economist presents supporting science and outside quotes rather than make general assumptions about the research. By comparing the two articles, one sees the difference between presenting facts and manipulating public opinion. The Economist represents good journalism, by coming across as knowing what and who it is talking about. The Economist knows that its audience will understand the science behind e-waste and that the general public most likely does not understand it. Because of the The Economists intellectual readership base, the general public, and the less educated get a very skewed opinion of how to view Apple and its contribution to e-waste by simply reading more simplistic, main stream articles like that of Natural News. By some news articles not presenting all the facts citizens may conclude that it is only Apple who is causing this exploding environmental issue known as e-waste.

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