Lifestyle Changes: Electronics
In this day and age, electronics are fully integrated into almost every aspect of our lives. They allow us to communicate with people all over the world, bring us the news, cook our food, and assist in all sorts of medical settings. With new and exciting pieces of technology coming out nearly every day, it is so simple to discard your old equipment into the without a second thought. We have several things to consider when it comes to electronics; their energy efficiency, how they are manufactured, and what we do with them when they are no longer of use to us.
We are using more energy than we think! Please see this website for an estimate of household appliances' energy usage, keeping in mind that this does not account for our mobile phone, MP3 players, and tablet usage: http://www.consumerenergycenter.org/home/appliances/small_appl.html
Good ways to prevent energy waste are to make sure all of your electronics are serviced regularly. Poorly functioning devices tend to draw more electricity than those who have been properly maintained. Unplug your devices when you are not using or charging them. Seek to purchase only those appliances with the Energy Star rating and built by companies who manufacture in countries with fair labor and environmental standards. While it is great to purchase an Energy Star appliance to minimize your energy usage, you are being less helpful than you might think if the appliance or electronic you purchased was manufactured in a plant that puts off a surplus of toxic waste or emissions. It is certainly going to cost a little more to purchase an energy efficient appliance manufactured in a country with adequate environmental regulations, but we (both as individuals and as corporations) need to shift away from a focus on our pocket books and towards a healthier earth by making sure that our practices reflect our beliefs. For those who live in the US, a sustainable practice is to buy Energy Star rated electronics and appliances that are made in the US or Canada. While our environmental policies certainly leave something to be desired (a topic for another day), they are much better than most of the countries who presently manufacture the vast majority of electronics worldwide. The energy savings in shipping alone is worth paying a little more for domestically made products. Here is a website that has compiled a list of American made products, including appliances and electronics: http://reemployamerica.us/
Manufacturing is an area where there is significant room for improvement in almost every field, including electronics. My research did not yield anything in regards to electronics or appliance manufacturers using reclaimed materials to build new products. Many major companies sell "re-built" devices for less than their new counterparts, but a really big step in sustainability would be for manufacturers to start using recycled plastics and metals to build their new electronics and to find new renewable materials to replace those currently in place in addition to ensuring that they are contributing no waste or pollution to the surrounding eco-systems by adopting sustainable manufacturing policies and programs. There does seem to be a lot of interest in the field to become more sustainable, but it has been very difficult to find a concrete example of where the industry has improved. Please see the following website to learn more about the initiative: http://www.sustainelectronics.illinois.edu/
According the the EPA, approximately 2.37 million tops of electronics, including computers, office equipment, and mobile devices go into the landfill each year. That is A LOT of waste! And this number does not even include household appliances. Not only are most electronic devices recyclable or reusable in some capacity, but they contain heavy metals and highly toxic chemicals that contaminate water and soil and pose a hazard to both humans and nature if disposed of improperly. At present, the best solution for this is electronics recycling programs. Most electronic devices can be fixed or upgraded and re-sold or their components can be harvested for the repair of similar devices. You can find electronics recycling programs that will rebuild your devices and dispose of the remains responsibly by visiting: http://earth911.com/recycling/small-electronics/
As mindful global citizens, we need to be very aware of our consumption and decrease overall demand for the products that eventually end up in the landfill in order to make an impact on waste and manufacturing practices. Take good care of this electronics you have and use them until you just can't anymore. Upgrade your existing devices rather than purchasing new ones, if possible. Maybe you won't look as cool with your iPhone 4 (because as far as I can tell there is no such thing as an American made mobile phone...) as all your friends with the iPhone 5, but we have to ask ourselves what is really important?
Buy products made domestically with ethical business practices and whatever else you do, do NOT simply throw your outdated or broken electronics in the trash. Find a recycling program or, at the very least, donate them to a local second hand shop. Most have some sort of repair shop on site nowadays and the proceeds from the sale goes to a good cause. We must decrease demand to improve practices, but we can start with these very basic things to put a dent in the mess we've created with our technology obsession.
To learn more about eCycling, visit the EPA website at: http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/index.htm
Here's a short video on how our electronics are "Designed for the Dump:" http://www.openideo.com/open/e-waste/inspiration/designed-for-the-dump