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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5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Lauryn Sparks on November 7, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Zoe-
    This is a big issue that receives such little media attention! It seems, based on your research and analysis, that the media are doing a poor job of covering it. Perhaps it is because of the issue-attention cycle… people just don’t really care where their super cool new iphone 4s will be in a year and half when it breaks. They are obsessed with consuming what they have right now. Maybe you could check out some Beaudrillard or Foucoult to apply post-modernism to such a topic… it seems very relevant.

    Another alarming issue that I fail to hear about regarding your topic is where exactly these toxic remains are dumped. How does this affect the local population? It’s hard to know with accurate media coverage, which seems to be scant.

    This issue is definitely getting the media’s cold shoulder, which is unfortunate because it affects everyone so much. I also think that, despite The Economist’s satisfactory coverage, its inability to access mass amounts of people based on its limited, educated-elite readership somewhat contributes in making this topic less of a concern among the masses. This topic needs to be covered by a broader range of media outlets in order to raise alarm and perhaps drive some political action.

    Lauryn Sparks

    Reply

  2. Posted by abbey meyers on November 16, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Zoe,

    I really enjoyed this post about “E-waste”. I think it is safe to say that we lost sight of the economic impacts during the excitement of all of the new technology of the twentieth and twenty-first century. This is the kind of problem that we do not realize how bad it is until it is out of hand, defended by the fact that we did not know the environmental implications of these products as we had not had or seen them prior.
    I like how you took a specific look at Apple as they are a major producer of these materials. They are a good company to analyze because it is almost quite obvious that they make their products to break within a few years, leading to more consumer purchases. But what about all of the lost and trashed computers and gadgets? Can’t be causing any good for the land, where does one even dispose of those? Your contrast of two articles covering the same issue did a good job of seeing how corporations can be framed in these types of situations, even if they are in the wrong. It is interesting to see how one outlet provides ample empirical evidence about their case against Apple while the other merely makes claims. I believe these contrasts in writing speaks bounds about the authenticity of the news outlets.
    Although it is sad that so much E-waste is deliberately being created by major corporations like Apple merely to make money, I think this is an interesting to topic to maybe write a few more postings on. See how media outlets view this controversial issue and see if some of there bias’ shine through. I also think some hard hitting numbers about the effects this technology is having on our environment would also make for a really good read, possibly see what numbers certain outlets choose to highlight.
    Great post, I look forward to reading more about this issue.

    -Abbey Meyers

    Reply

  3. I think you took a good approach focusing on Apple for this initial blog post. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but because Apple has such a large and loyal consumer base you and the other press probably has a better chance of reaching a bigger audience with focusing on Apple’s role in contributing to electronic waste. You did a great job pointing out the holes in the “Natural News” article. I’ve never been to the Natural News website…I sort of like the layout of the homepage but when looking at the article you critiqued I was puzzled why they hyperlinked the broadest words in the article like “companies” and “products”. Generally I think you’re right though, the author does not make it clear enough what sort of criteria they are using in their evaluation and it is uninformative leaving out the other 13 companies in the study. I like how you wrote about two differing articles to demonstrate the variance in the spectrum from not-so-good coverage to much better coverage (Natural News vs. The Economist)
    I’d be interested to see if there are any infographics out there. They can be really eye-opening and maybe help you increase awareness on the problem, visually, for future posts.

    Reply

  4. Zoe-
    I liked that you tackled the topic of electronic waste, especially with a blog centered on consumer waste. In reference to the Natural News article, you mention that Natural News exaggerates how poorly Apple is doing in terms of e-waste recycling an doesn’t provide a fair comparison to other articles. I think the purpose of this piece was to inform americans that in comparison to companies in China which many americans consider to have low standards in terms of waste disposal etc that Apple, a American based corporation isn’t doing nearly as much to stem the problem. The article makes the comparison between Apple and Lenovo to prove that corporations can make changes to minimize e-waste, but simply that Apple has not. This is demonstrated when the article states that Lenovo came in last place in rankings from the previous year.
    In reference to The Economist, this blog suggests that this is clearly the unbiased version of reporting on Apple. Although I whole-heartedly agree that The Economist is a more reputable publication and provides more evidence, the target of the article is still Apple. It is mentioned that the article mentions good aspects of Apple’s attempts to being green and that this makes it less weighted against Apple. Yet after reading the article, it seemed that the strategy entailed showing what Apple states what it is doing to limit e-waste and then offering a criticism from both Greenpeace and the author of The Economist about how little Apple is doing in the grand scheme of things.
    Overall I did think this was a good analysis however I would suggest proofreading a little (I had the same problem haha).
    Best,
    Jessica

    Reply

  5. Your post made me very curious about why Apple gets such a bad rap, so I did a quick search into how the company treats its old products and found that there are actually a lot of programs already in place to decrease the use of substances that are harmful to humans and to encourage people to recycle their old Apple products. I found this note from Steve Jobs on the apple website: http://www.apple.com/hotnews/agreenerapple/ Jobs brings up an excellent point in this note. He mentions that Apple doesn’t frequently broadcast its plans for the future, but rather gives reports on what has recently been accomplished. The fact that they are not communicating these programs may be part of the reason why they are being depicted so negatively. This also brings up the point that the journalists may not be doing their part before reporting on the e-waste being produced by Apple. They are not doing research into the company’s specific programs. Instead, they rely on rankings from outside groups. This is a flaw in the reporting and may further lead to misconstrued facts.

    Reply

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