• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Stop wasting time looking for files and revisions. Connect your Gmail, DriveDropbox, and Slack accounts and in less than 2 minutes, Dokkio will automatically organize all your file attachments. Learn more and claim your free account.



Page history last edited by David Shutkin 8 years, 1 month ago


What I want to talk with you about:

E-Waste: Dumping on the Poor 电子垃圾污染穷国

Asia Society's multimedia look at electronic waste shipped overseas and the toxic effect it has on places such as Guiyu, China--known as "trash town." With an interview with Michael Zhao of the Center on US-China Relations at Asia Society.

Photo Credit: ©2010Basel Action Network (BAN)


1. The Promise of a Clean Industry: Grossman Saturday 26

"The rise of the electronics industry seemed like the perfect success story, with brilliant engineers and innovative companies, fueled by American ingenuity.  It was viewed as an industry without pollution, with workers in 'clean rooms' and factories without smokestacks.  In fact industry leaders promoted it as the 'clean industry'." (Byster and Smith, p. 111) 


2. Digital technology from mining through production to demanufacturing: Byster and Smith; Grossman  Saturday 26



photo credit:  http://cnx.org/content/m14503/latest/

  • In the late 1970's advocates for worker safety in California learned that the semiconductor or computer chip manufacturing process requires in excess of one thousand chemicals and other toxic materials and thus the myth of the "clean industry" began to wane.
  • Of the thousand chemicals included by category: acids, solvents, chlorinated and brominated substances, heavy metals and toxic gases.
  • Soon there was evidence linking patterns of reproductive health issues to the semiconductor industry. By 1985, the California Department of Health reported unusually high rates of birth defects and miscarriages in the effected region.
  • By 1981 reports emerged of substantial drinking water contamination in Silicon Valley linked to improper underground storage of toxic chemicals leaking into the groundwater.  This was traced, at first to two companies, IBM and Fairchild Semiconductor.
  • Even before clean-up could begin, three miles of underground water 180 feet deep was contaminated with 1,1,1-trichloroethane (TCA) 
  • Much of the advocacy and research was conducted by a worker-safety organization called the Santa Clara Center for Occupational Safety and Health (SCCOSH) founded in the late 1970's.
  • To protect the environment, community health and to monitor the practices of these and other corporations in the high technology industry, in 1982 The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) was formed from a coalition of industry workers, union members, public health advocates, firefighters and other concerned members of the community. It is maintained that such a broad coalition is needed to establish legitimacy and to prevent allegations of job, for example, that might dismiss the coalition.  Yet, with strong labor support, these and other industry tactics have been avoided.  
  • SVTC learned that the IBM and Fairchild toxic waste sites were just the beginning and they organized throughout the valley in what became the most polluted communities to demand that all sites be cleaned up.  


  • 29 sites in Silicon Valley were designated as Superfund sites.
  • At the center of the efforts by the SVTC was an insistance on the citizen's right to know what the corporations in their communities were doing. This insistence upon transparency primarily concerned citizen exposure to toxins.
  • As early as 1983, the  SVTC began to realize political victories including the establishment of two laws: a community right to know law and 2.  a Hazardous Materials Model Ordinance requiring secondary containment of all hazardous materials.
  • These two community laws soon lead to the establishment of similar legislation, first in California and then by the US Congress.


The EPA's March 2010 Map showing Superfund Sites and their locations in the United States:  Red  indicates on national priority; Yellow is proposed; Green is cleaned up.  


  • "In 1990's, SVTC developed its family of interactive eco-maps documenting the Valley's groundwater contamination, which showed that communities of color were disproportionately located near polluting high-tech industries domestically, and --where the industry expanded to other parts of the world -- globally. (p.113-114).
  • http://www.mapcruzin.com/svtc_ecomaps/  Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) EcoMaps, toxic point source maps, cumulative exposure project (cep) maps, environmental justice maps, groundwater contamination maps, etc.
  • When corporate American no longer found an ill-informed citizenry in the United States where they could locate their manufacturing operations with few regulations, they began to expand globally.
  • And as they did, so the SVTV grew, morphed and followed them.  In 1990 the international NGO International Campaign for Responsible Technology (ICRT) was formed to help prevent the reproduction of the irresponsible industry practices that lead to such contamination in Silicon Valley,  to raise international awareness  about and to expose corporate demands for a certain amount of "corporate welfare" in the guise of tax breaks and concessions on environmental laws and regulations.
  • The  ICRT mission is:  "We are an international solidarity network that promotes corporate and government accountability in the global electronics industry. We are united by our concern for the lifecycle impacts of this industry on health, the environment and workers' rights.  By sharing resources we seek to build the capacity of grassroots organizations, local communities, workers and consumers to achieve social, environmental, and economic justice." (p. 118-119) 

3. Issues of Ethics and Responsibility, Environmental Racism, Globalization, Corporate Responsibility: Pickett  

From: High-Tech's Dirty Little Secret:

  • February 2002, the Basal Action Network and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition released the report: Exporting Harm: The High-tech Trashing of Asia.
  • 80% of electronic wastes collected in North America for "recycling" is legally exported to Asia and its many low tech, highly polluting recycling operations.
  • Now, in 2011, these practices continue, mostly unabated. 
  • "The exploitation of low-wage communities and workforces, under the green rubric of "recycling" continues to take its toll through devastating immediate and long-term ecological and human health impacts." (p.225)
  • This amounts to a strategy by the electronics industry to avoid any responsibility or accountability for inadequate end of use design and the downstream costs for the safe removal or recycling of hazardous materials. 
  • Much of this is accomplished under the guise of green recycling and through the manipulation of international free-trade agreements creating, "an economic system where the bill for the damage done is neither presented to nor paid by those most responsible." (p.226)
  • Indeed, as Puckett makes abundantly clear, the solution to the catastrophe of e-Waste is less in the design of environmentally sound recycling of hazardous waste but in the initial design and engineering of green electronics.
  • There is a fourth "R" that Puckett wants us to add to the now recognizable three R's, reduce, reuse and recycle, which is responsibility!  When will manufacturers take full financial and environmental responsibility for the entire life-cycle of the consumer electronics they produce?
  • This responsibility also includes: not producing toxic /hazardous products;  for nations to develop the capacity to demanufacture or recycle all the consumer electronics sold within their borders; which explicitly means the end to the exportation of hazardous wastes from developed to developing countries.
  • From these responsibilities it follows that we as facile consumers of these electronics figure out how to hold corporations accountable
  • So, environmental justice in matters of the demanufacturing of consumer electronics is an important instance of our studies of digital media and social justice!
  • "...if we were to employ a truer economic system (e.g., "ecological economics") that is honest and values all things valuable-- such as our health, our future, biological diversity, justice, morality, human rights, freedom--and properly accounts for what these are worth to us as human beings, the "export of harm" would fail all tests of economic logic..." (p.228)
  • Imagine the price to be paid for the human and ecological disaster created by electronic waste!
  • In fact electronic waste forms an object lesson in the deceipt and failure of globalization and free trade.  Please consider the lives of those many people unable to move across international borders to avoid the electronic waste demanufacturing industry.
  • Puckett concludes his article by outlining four reasons why the over-seas exportation and demanufacturing of eWaste is unethical and economically unsustainable: 

A. Damage to human health and the environment;

B. weaker nations lack the economic, political and technical abilities to protect workers and the environment;

C. the eWaste trade to low-wage economies is environmentally and morally unethical ("no peoples should be disproportionately burdened from environmental harm simply due to their economic, racial or other status." (p.230))

D. The export of eWaste externalizes the demanufacturing or recycling of consumer electronics and is productive of disincentives for environmentally sustainable design of consumer electronics. In this way, this system actually creates a financial incentive for the design and manufacturing of electronic waste. 

4. Good Stuff You Can Do eStewards and the Story of Electronics   

Hold Manufacturers Accountable Producer Responsibility For Electronic Waste


5. There are Industry Organizations that are properly recycling: Mooallem Wednesday 23 

6. What is Your Ecological Footprint? Rees and Westrom 


Ecological footprint estimates human demand on the Earth in terms of the ecosystem area required to provide basic material support for any defined population.  In this way, the ecological footprint of a specified population is the area of land and water ecosystems required on a continuous basis to produce the resources that the population consumes and to assimilate the wastes that the population produces...


Ecologists explicitly classify humans as consumer organisms since virtually everything we do -- including all economic activity -- involves consumptive  use of so-called 'resources' first produced by ecosystems or through other natural processes.


In physical terms, consumption involves the irreversible transformation of available energy and material partly into useful products, but mainly into waste (and even the useful products eventually become waste)... consumption is ecologically significant to the extent that it makes materials or energy less available for future use.


Eco-footprint analysis takes the additional step of converting the material and energy flows of consumption into a corresponding ecosystem area -- the land and water area a population appropriates from nature to produce its resources and to assimilate its waste. This process demonstrates that the residents of the United States and other high-income countries require 10 times as much land area as developing countries and as much as 25 acres of productive land/water per person to support their consumer lifestyles.


In this way, consumption by the world's wealthy causes much ecological destruction around the world, but it must be recognized that distance and wealth insulate the wealthy from the negative consequences of their consumer lifestyle.


Further, the wealthy 20% of the world consumes 80% of global economic output.  This implies that our consumer lifestyle is not sustainable and further that prevailing development models for Southern developing countries to emulate the consumer lifestyles of the developed North is unrealistic and unsustainable.  How might we begin to rethink our consumer lifestyles?  How might we consume less, much less?


Footprint Calculator

How much land area does it take to support your lifestyle? Take this quiz to find out your Ecological Footprint, discover your biggest areas of resource consumption, and learn what you can do to tread more lightly on the earth.

7. Economic Prosperity Without Economic Growth: Jackson  Thursday 24


8. An Introduction to the Desire and Allure of Consumer Electronics:  Commodity Fetishism:  Mooallem and Jackson Wednesday 23


 9. The History of Trash making, from the Bricoleur to the Consummer:  Strasser  Friday 25


10.  Matter Out of Place: Mary Douglas and Strasser.  When is it time to mend or to throw it away?  Is it wrong to put your feet on the table? Or to Eat in the Bathroom?  Breaking Cultural Norms, Seeking out Cultural Norms. Friday 25


Sorting is a class issue:

We learn from the celebrated Anthropologists Mary Douglas, that dirt is matter out of place, that dirt is relative.  We perpetually sort what is dirty from what is clean and how we sort our matter, matters a lot!

  • Trash making underscores and creates social differences based on economic status;
  • What is rubbish to one person has value to another;
  • It is the wealthy who can afford to be wasteful;
  • Disposability was a culturally specific marketing ploy to help those with less to feel wealthy.

Around the End of the 19th Century Most Americans Produced Little Waste:

http://youtu.be/lees7c2cio0   What Happened on 23Street, New York City (1901) Director: Edwin S. Porter

  • Americans still possess the skill to repair most common things; 
  • Durable items were passed on to others or stored;
  • Worn out or broken things could be returned to makers or sellers for repair;
  • Objects beyond repair were dismantled for parts or sold as junk;
  • Things of no use, i.e. trash, were burned to warm homes;
  • In all, it was an extensive system of reuse and recycling.

The New System of Consumer Culture Emerging in the 20th Century

  • Municipal trash collection and sanitary engineering of landfills;
  • Mass production and mass distribution generated more trash;
  • Corporations like Heintz and Proctor & Gamble not only manufactured new products but invented the very idea of packaging to market their products.
  • As few people still made a living doing hand work, expert knowledge of materials and crafts were lost as leftovers and scrap materials became trash.


In the 20th Century, Economic Growth Encouraged By:

  • Wasteful packaging and disposable products;
  • Constant technological and stylistic changes making perfectly useable things obsolete
  • Creation of markets for unnecessary things.


Psychology and Consumer section


Progressive Obsolescence

  • Takes hold of America by the 1930’s
  • Is this the source of the American economic achievement?
  • Consumers are to be receptive of new styles and technologies and willing to throw away the old & purchase the new;
  • Divert income to consumption not savings




Consumer Culture

  • Consumer culture = fashion, convenience and the latest technologies
  • Satisfaction is a temporary condition to build desire for the new;
  • Psychological obsolescence Vs. Technological or Functional obsolescence;
  • Driven by Fashion and Desire;
  • Consumer electronics as expressions and extensions of our personalities;
  • Anxieties associated with not having what the other has;
  • Desire and affection for objects associated with their newness;
  • and how we personalize them with color, skin, pictures, music, access to friends and family...


Move to the solution section

The Solution to Waste Cannot be to Go Back to the Way Things Were

  • While there is much pollution and waste created by our consumer culture and the problems are urgent, severe and global, there is no way to go back in time.  At the same time, we need to understand where we’ve been and how we got here.
  • Additionally, we learn that the solution to the problems of waste are not in the techniques and technologies of reason and rationalizations that overdetermine our modern life into the 21st century.
  • Perhaps we need to consume less?  What is your Ecological Footprint?  just the JPG
  • In the selection of readings is a chapter that considers the economics of consumer culture.  It is part of a larger book, an early version of which is available for us to read and discuss.  The chapter and the book begin to outline a more sustainable economics not based on continual growth, obsolescence or consumption.



11.  A Few Philosophical Issues and Conundrums from Scanlan: Sunday 26 






Comments (1)

David Shutkin said

at 5:35 pm on Nov 21, 2011

I decided that I'm going to produce a website, right here, to represent these ideas with images and text and videos and a chrat or two, perhaps.

You don't have permission to comment on this page.