What Happened to Reduce, Re-Use, then Recycle?
This letter was published April 25, 2006,
regarding California State Assembly Member Pavley's proposed AB3001 e-waste recycling bill.
See also our previous text, Notes on the failure of California's SB-20/50, and proposed solutions.
It seems that, contrary to logic or sense, our government continues to throw reason to the winds and continue to call a consumer-funded planned obsolescence subsidy "environmentalism". I am executive director and founder of a non-profit computer recycler and have been diverting electronic waste for over twelve years. We are the providers of over 16000 free refurbished computers to the needy and we divert over 200,000 lbs of toxic waste per month. I have been recently recognized by the US EPA and Congresswoman Barbara Lee for my outstanding and invaluable service to the community as an environmental hero. If you think you can find someone with more credibility on this issue please do so.
Let me make this as clear as is possible. SB20 and SB50 are, at best, under funded planned obsolescence subsidies and AB3001 looks to be woven from the same profoundly warped cloth. All of these bills fund the destruction of working hardware. All of these bills promote a philosophy that encourages a "design to grind" world. Manufacturers and waste disposal companies pursue higher profits by selling consumers new machines more often. They take older machines, not only off the market, but actually use a consumer tax to destroy machines that in my experience are many times better than what we have in our schools and definitely better than what the poor can put in the hands of their children.
Under loud and repeated protest, we are an authorized and fully compliant collector and recycler of electronic waste under the California's SB20/50 Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003. (If stupid is the only game, then you gotta play stupid.) The regulations under this system make little or no effort to accommodate, and even go so far as to discourage, reuse.
What I believe should be seriously considered is an extended life span, not an artificially abbreviated one. Make manufacturers provide a clear five-year user serviceable upgrade path. For bonus points make them adhere to an already existing, common industrial standard such as ATX or Mini-ITX.
You don't even have to make it mandatory. Simply modify the system so machines built without these concerns addressed are more heavily taxed than those that are.
First determine base cost for disposal. That is a topic of another document, but for the purposes of this example lets go with $10.
- Computer built to a common/open standard: $10
- Computer built to a closed but upgradeable standard: $20
- Grinder fodder: $30
There will be some debate as to fees and classifications but the basic theme is simple and sound.
- Saves the consumer money, as they can simply buy a part, not a new computer. If we adhere to a common standard they could buy a new part from a DIFFERENT MANUFACTURER!! (Ooh the horrors of a competitive marketplace).
- Saves on secondary and often hidden environmental and fiscal burdens in unnecessary manufacturing, disposal and transport.
- Keeps jobs here. To my knowledge, we have little or no actual computer manufacturing in the United States. So, "design to grind" (yes I'm pushing that meme; prove me wrong) only benefits stockholders and off-shore manufacturing. On the other hand, parts compatibility would re-vitalize a threatened industry of local computer repair and upgrade businesses.
- Promotes real innovation, not money extraction. The cost of innovation would be the cost of a component, not a computer, and the market, not marketing, would define and shape creation and design. (As an interesting note, Steve Wozniak tried to sell the personal computer concept to a major computer manufacturer. The fact that he ended up changing the world from a garage demonstrates my point and illustrates the oxymoron that is corporate innovation)
- If you go with a pollution over time or energy consumption over time concept instead of a simplistic "Computer bad!! Make go away! Me smash!" solution, I submit I make a lot more sense.
- Even if you ignore the whole "saves the consumer money, saves energy, and is less polluting" arguments, I still have the "We can and have helped people with what you would destroy" card. I submit that this card, at the very least, should trump any card in any hand at this table. Isn't this state among the lowest in the country in terms of computer access in the classroom? Do you really want to force schools to pay more, and more often? Why should we pay to throw educations away?
- Makes the most wasteful manufacturers shoulder the largest part of the burden and promotes environmental and consumer friendly manufacturing.
I leave this to those supporting current legislation. As they seem to think every environmentally threatening waste should be handled the same way we handle spent bottles, I don't expect much.
James Burgett Executive Director Computer and Technology Resource Center 501(c)(3) Director Alameda County Computer Resource Center 501(c)(3) Founder Marin Computer Resource Center 501(c)(3) US EPA Region 9 Environmental Achievement Award Winner 2006 Special Congressional Recognition 2006 SB20/50 authorized collector and recycler Provider of 16,000 free computers to the needy in 12 years Diverter of over 200,000 lbs of toxic waste per month