Thursday, February 14, 2013

Leftover electronics? What an eWaste.

An old Blackberry. An antique Palm Pilot. A couple of routers. Four old laptops –  Dell, HP, Sony Viao, Sony Viao. There may be an old desktop and CRT screen combo lurking in the far reaches of the closet in ‘the blue room” (so called – despite its green walls –because the couch is denim blue).

I did finally get around to buying the software that will let me wipe the laptops clean. Which, of course, won’t work on the HP, which is dead as a doornail. So I guess I’ll have to don a surgical mask and gloves, dismantle it, and pluck out the chips that may hold the secret to logins and passwords that are mostly defunct. (At least I hope so.)  I may be able to wipe out what’s on that old Blackberry and just toss it in the box at the Verizon Store, where I historically let my cell phones requiescat in pace. But that was in the good old days, before phones were smart, and I didn’t really care if someone hacked phone numbers. Logins and pws, on the other hand… And I just don’t know what to do with that Smithsonian-worthy Palm, but there can’t be much that’s worthwhile on it, as it was even dumber than my cell phones.

I don’t there’s anything worth a damn on the wireless routers, either. Yes, I did have them “secure”, but I never even bothered to call the network anything other than “Linksys.”

Once I get all the secret handshake info off of my devices, I’ll just need to find a place to recycle them.

The City of Boston has a couple of annual haz-mat turn-in days, but I don’t know if they accept electronics. They don’t pick them up with regular trash or recycle, as you can tell from the occasional CRT (or TV) that someone puts out on trash day, that you see sitting on the sidewalk for weeks on end.

In truth, it would be easy enough to throw a Palm, a Blackberry, a router, and even a laptop into a trash bag. The g-men would pick it up, toss it in the back of the truck, the jaws of death would grind it up, and it would end up in landfill with banana peels, desiccated teabags, and wadded up Kleenex. BUT THAT WOULD BE WRONG.

So I’ll have to do my research and find a place that takes care of the nasty business of electronics recycling without sending it by scow off to some toxic heap in Nigeria, China, or Pakistan, where someone making about three-cents a day, gleaning whatever precious metals there are to be had. 

There’s an awful lot of it out there:

Waste consisting of dead electronic goods, or e-waste, is growing at three times the rate of other kinds of rubbish, fuelled by gadgets’ diminishing lifespan and the appetite for consumer electronics among the developing world’s burgeoning middle classes. In 1998 America discarded 20m computers; by 2009 that number had climbed to 47.4m. China alone retired 160m appliances in 2011, 40% of America’s haul. A 2011 report by Pike Research, a consultancy, estimates that the volume and weight of global e-scrap will more than double in the next 15 years…

…e-waste is not just poisonous: it contains precious metals, too. Processors, chips and connecting pins (known as “gold fingers”) contain seams of silver, gold and palladium; these “deposits” are 40 to 50 times richer than dug-up ores, according to a study conducted by the United Nations University. Other less valuable and more troubling lodes for “urban miners” include cadmium, lead and mercury.  (Source: The Economist.)

There are high-tech ways to recycle, but they – surprise, surprise – cost more than the ship-it-to-a-poor-country-and-forget-it-methods, in which “workers risk burns, inhaling fumes and poisoning from lead and other carcinogens.”

There is now a ban on rich-to-poor “export” of e-waste, but, as it turns out, the poor countries are getting richer, so these days they’re generating a lot of their own e-waste.

Meanwhile, the manufacturers are doing precious little to make electronics themselves greener.

And meanwhile, I’ve got to figure out a place where I can dump my own little heap of toxicity, a place that’s real green, not faux green, and isn’t going poison anyone after those “green fingers” and traces of cadmium.

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