Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why We Care

There is only one planet.  For me, taking the ecological footprint quiz heightened my awareness as to the un-sustainability  of my lifestyle.  The fact that it would take 4.4 planets to support everybody on the planet if they lived like me is appalling.  Being an avid outdoors man, and into alternative/green energy, the facts speak for themselves.  
Recycling, Reducing and Reusing all can help decrease your Eco-footprint.  Using public transportation, car-pooling, or using pedestrian powered vehicles can also help reduce your footprint.  I hope to work in alternative energies fields with my degree in Mechanical Engineering.  By increasing efficiencies of geo-thermal and solar thermal technologies, carbon emissions can be reduced.
I hope to share this awareness with those around me, and to make changes in my lifestyle to help make the planet a better place.  In the blogs below I have shared some knowledge I gained from volunteering for an E-Waste drive, readings on the 'Story of Stuff' website, as well as from my Environmental 10 class with Professor Ewing-Flowers.  I hope together we can make a difference for everybody.

Earth Day 2011 With E-Wastes

Keep California Beautiful teamed up with CEAR inc. and other local and State organizations to collect E-wastes in Greater Sacramento and Bay Areas at over 12 locations.  The locations were open from 8:00am till noon, with one location open till 4:00pm.  Wastes were brought in and received by volunteers.  As a volunteer we received the wastes and deposited them in large metal storage containers to be picked up later by CEAR inc.  At our location there was a representative for CEAR inc. that took information from those donating T.V.s and monitors, as well as instructing us on how to properly load the storage containers.

The following rules applied for e-wastes being brought in:

 Items that can be dropped off at any of the e-waste collection sites include:
  • Monitors, televisions (including LCD, LED, and projection)
  • Desktop and laptop PCs, keyboards, mice, and other computer peripherals including cables and power supplies
  • VCRs, CD, and DVD players as well as video game consoles
  • Home and car stereo equipment, speakers, wires, and adapters
  • Cell phones, PDAs, Digital cameras, calculators, and home telephones
  • CD’s/Video Cassettes/Beta/DAT Tapes
  • Printers, copiers, scanners, and fax machines
  • Microwaves and other small kitchen appliances
  • Servers, mainframes, circuit boards
  • Hair dryers, straighteners, electric razors, and electric toothbrushes
  • Electric space heaters, humidifiers, electric fans, and vaccuums
  • Almost any other electronic or corded small applianc
Items that cannot be dropped off at any of the e-waste collection sites include:
  • Large appliances such as refrigerators, stoves, dishwashers, washers, or dryers
  • Lawn mowers, weed-eaters, or edgers
  • Air conditioners
Over 55,000 lbs. were collected!!!!!  Some of the volunteers included  fellow classmates of mine from Professor Christine Ewing-Flowers Environment 10 class at Sacramento State University.

A Little About The Story of Stuff...

            The video, “The Story of Stuff” is about the linear system of consumption in our society today.  The system consists of 5 parts- extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal.  The system is known as the materials economy.  The problem with the system is that it is linear, and the world itself is finite.
            Behind the system is Government and Corporations. Governments are supposed to be by us and for us, but have become partial to corporate powers.  The corporate powers account for 51 of the largest economies in the world.  They control the methods used on this linear system and decide how it functions.  They have put research into how it works and the best ways to keep it functioning.
            Extraction involves the use of resources (renewable, and more so, non-renewable) to process and mine what goes into the products passing through this system.  The rate it occurs is depleting the planet of natural habitats rapidly.  A third of all resources have been used in the past three decades.  80% of the world’s forests are gone. 
Production is where these resources are made into products.  Most of the production is done outside our country.  Toxic chemicals are being used in the manufacturing and are coming out in the form of products, and pollution.  4 billion lbs of toxic chemicals a year at least are pumped into the environment.  They accumulate in the environment and move up the food chain into us.  Breast milk of a mother contains the strongest concentration of these chemicals.  Garbage in, garbage out you could say.
The products then move to distribution, where they are sold to us.  At this point the costs of labor, wastes disposals, and other resources have all been externalized as much as possible to save the corporations money.  This has resulted in lower wages, more pollution, lower standards of living, and the over-all consumption of resources outside our country as well as in.
Consumption is where we get the products.  99% of these products are in the trash with in 6 months of purchase.  In the 50’s, an idea was formulated to make consumption the driver of our economy- our very way of life.  Marketing, product design, and production were all made to insure we would buy more stuff, more often, and let it become the focus of our lives.  The national happiness plummeted, leisure time decreased, people worked harder…. all just to purchase more.
Once the stuff moved to trash, it is sent out of country or put in landfills or incinerated- both of which leak more pollution into the environment.  Recycling helps, but products are not all made to be recycled, and it is not enough.
For every one can of trash, 70 cans go into its production and distribution.
            Three things I can do to help would be:
1)   Limit Consumption to necessities only, and only those of the highest quality that will last the longest.  And make those purchases from companies with green practices.
2)   Increase my awareness as to how the system works, and where it intersects my daily life.
3)   Spread the word about the system and become involved in the community.  Work to change the system from the inside, and not just complain or be apathetic.

Monday, May 9, 2011

E-Waste With CEAR

            Electronics in our society have toxic chemicals in them that are polluting the
World.  The current marketing strategies encourage rapid replacement, and improper disposal of the wastes- known as E-Wastes.  The recycling of these wastes is for the most part equally negative on the environment.  Only a small percentage of E-Wastes recyclers properly dispose of the wastes.
            Current market design has the user of electronic products replacing their devices every 18 months.  The devices are too expensive to repair, and technologically out dated, leaving this rapid replacement the best option for the users- but not the environment.  The manufacturing involves mining and use of txic chemicals, such as PVC, mercury, solvents, and flame-retardants.  The areas where they are manufactured are rapidly polluted with manufacturing by-products and wastes (Silicon Valley).  The workers in these plants have much higher instances of sickness and disease, with shorter live spans as a result of the pollutions they work around.
            Once the user is finished with the products, they are often tossed out into trash or sent for recycling.  The term “toxic in-toxic out” refers to the point that THE E-Wastes are produced toxic, and remain so for their life- obviously making them toxic as a waste product.  Most of the recycling plants are in third world countries where the wastes are manually broken down, partially salvaged, and then burned.  This moves the toxic waste to third world countries and releases the toxic wastes there.  The U.S. produces 25 million tons of E-Wastes a year.  The process of these products life cycle allows its producers to externalize costs, passing on costs through poor work environment for employees, toxic wastes exported to other countries, and designing for the dump with short life cycles and limited reparability.  To combat this practice, “you make it- you deal with it” trends are inspiring take back, that make the manufacturers more responsible for their products through-out the product’s life.  The hope is to transfer the costs and responsibilities of disposal to the manufacturers – encouraging the making of better-designed, longer lasting, toxic free products.
            An example of a better E-Waste recycler would be CEAR INC in Sacramento California.  CEAR uses a complex system to break down and sort E-Wastes into more easily dealt with waste categories.  At the heart of the system is a machine known as the green machine. Incoming electronics are counted, sorted, and weighed.  The products are then torn apart (de-manufactured) by a complex array of arms  and spun in a centrifuge to sort like material together.  The hazardous material are then separated and shipped to appropriate recyclers.  Further sorting occurs, and shredding before being sent to to “Smelting Operations Scrap Processors “which melt down the products and separate them into ferrous, non-ferrous, plastic, and glass/lead glass categories.  The products are then sent to Recycling certification, reporting, and on to be re used.
            Ideally the elimination of toxic chemicals in the production of electronics, and improved design for longer life, reparability, and recyclability should be the goals of manufacturers.  Consumers need to remain vigilant, and keep the policy makers on track for these goals.