J500 Media and the Environment

A story about a guy who doesn’t believe in recycling by bendcohen
April 9, 2010, 2:37 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 11, Society + Media, Waste + Recycling | Tags: , ,

“Recycling is a lie”, said somebody in my Scientific Principles of Environmental Studies class about a month ago.  While the rest of the class, and the GTA who was leading the discussion in place of our absent professor, raised eyebrows and uttered a collective “Seriously?”, this person explained that recycling centers did not actually dispose of waste, but rather shipped it all off to China to be burned or thrown into landfills.  This was in reaction to a video we had just watched depicting this very thing happening with e-waste.  At least one recycling center was shown to have merely sent its recycled phones and old computers to a dump in China, where parts were either stripped off or destroyed.

I have turned over the comment that “recycling is a lie” this video elicited ever since.  I thoroughly disagreed with the assessment then, and continue to do so, but it got to me in that I realized how easily somebody was swayed by one video of an unethical business.  The point of the feature was not to criticize the practice of recycling so much as it was an expose on how the exportation of e-waste is handled, both domestically (a recycling center which ships its waste abroad), and internationally (entire communities in China portrayed as being based around e-waste dumps).

Levels of waste are going up constantly, with one report estimating that e-waste just from cell phones will increase in China sevenfold by 2020 (from 2007 levels).  If you take the tons of space taken up by all of the waste in the country, and then factor in gas from all the melting plastic, you get… filth.  It’s probably not the most scientific calculation ever devised, but then I also don’t have a calculator on hand.

But, with all that in mind, my classmate’s reaction wasn’t “They are abusing the practice of recycling for money all over the world”.  It was “recycling is a lie”.  Different studies have come up with different results for how many people in America actually recycle.  A Harris poll in 2007 cited by Jasmin Malik Chua of treehugger.com stated that 23% of Americans did not recycle.  Honestly, when I saw this number, I thought it was encouraging, given all the people I’ve known who think not throwing an empty aluminum can in the trash is something hippies do.

And they'll come after you if they find out you're not doing it. From rowthree.com

Another report, this time from 2008, stated that around 40-50 percent of Americans recycle all the time, and one taken shortly before that had 25% of the country not recycling at all.

I’m not great with numbers, but that last one is not a number I have a hard time wrapping my head around.  Somewhere around a quarter of the country’s population either agrees with my classmate that recycling is a “lie”, or they are just apathetic to it.  I’m not actually interested in preaching the values of recycling right now.  Those kinds of rants are so common they are almost cliche.  Rather, I’d just like to dwell on the the fact that so many people are desensitized to said rants.  Some think it’s a lie, some don’t understand it, some just don’t care.  That crying Native American from the old commercials would be sad.

~Ben C.


2 Comments so far
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That 60 Minutes segment you were referring to is one of my favorites (60 Minutes is my favorite show). I’ve also seen another one about an e-waste dumping ground in Africa (http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Weekend/story?id=8215714&page=1). Learning about that is the reason why I have not bought a new computer even though my laptop now only works while it is plugged into the wall. I am wondering, do you think if others were aware of where their e-waste goes, they’d be less likely to get the latest gadget if it is not necessary? -Kristina B.

Comment by kristinabev


I REALLY hope so. I’ve used the same desktop computer for five years now, myself, though I confess to having gotten a spiffy new phone early this year when my old one still worked. Electronics companies, especially phone manufacturers, push to get new gadgets all the time, because they can make all kinds of money from them. Since you’ve seen that segment (thanks for reminding me that it was “60 Minutes”, by the way), you’ve also gotten to see that the desire for profit is also what drives people in communities overseas that take in this waste, despite the obvious impacts on their health.

I think that the question is not just will people consume less, but will companies learn to produce less (that part is probably “no”, but oh well).
~Ben C.

Comment by bendcohen

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