When Basel Action Network (BAN), an electronic waste watchdog organization in Washington, implicated Total Reclaim — a purportedly reliable waste company — in a trash tracking investigation for covertly shipping LCD monitors overseas, it illustrated the complexities of pursuing environmental responsibility amidst the growth of online computing.
In a recent apology statement issued in response to BAN’s discovery of two mercury-containing monitors at an undocumented facility in Hong Kong, Total Reclaim cited business pressures such as a drop in commodity prices and increasing labor costs, and emphasized the “dramatically increasing volume of flat-screen devices” as contributing factors to its “ethical lapses.”
The study found that nearly one-third of 200 tracked devices had been sent overseas by multiple companies, including Dell Reconnect, a partnership with Goodwill. As a result of the investigation, the e-Stewards program, which counts Total Reclaim as a founding member, has revoked its certification for two years, while citing a “broken” economic and regulatory system that fails to provide “a sustainable and ethical electronics recycling infrastructure.”
This comes as device ownership and data creation are growing substantially. The Pew Research Center found that 36% of Americans owned three devices — a smartphone, computer, and tablet — in 2015, compared with 15% in 2012. This proliferation of devices has caused toxic impacts at unregulated overseas facilities, far outside the purview of customers.
Prior to disposal, their use is generating a secondary environmental footprint via WiFi and mobile Internet use, drawing on natural resources to power a sprawling network of cloud data centers that support increasing storage, sharing, and streaming.
Read the full article on Data & Society: Points.