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Obsolete and non-functioning consumer waste finds its way to third world countries

The United Nations held a conference this week called the 8th Conference of the Parties where UN members discussed primarily issues affecting the environment. The main topic was what they called "e-waste."

A byproduct of technology that was once cutting edge, e-waste is basically old technology that has become obsolete and consumers no longer want them. Old televisions, computers, phones and other electronics are getting moved overseas, to third world countries and being "dumped" there for people to use. While the concept of recycling is definitely the idea, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, expressed a high degree of concern over e-waste.

During his speech to UN members, Steiner noted "If these were good quality, second hand, pieces of equipment this would perhaps be a positive trade of importance for development." Most people would consider this a fairly positive bit up to this point. Steiner then expressed concerns that most products being shipped over either have malfunctions or are completely non-functioning. "But local experts estimate that between a quarter to 75 per cent of these items including old TVs, CPUs and phones are defunct—in other words E-waste, in other words long distance dumping from developed country consumers and companies to an African rubbish tip or landfill," continued Steiner.

The UN meeting suggests that manufacturers begin looking at ways to truly recycle used and non-functional electronic equipment. Nokia for example, announced recyclable phones earlier this year. The phones would be taken back to a break-down facility where a specific degree of heat would cause the phone to instantly break apart into individual components. Product designs like this easily help manufacturers salvage old products and refurbish them for uses elsewhere. Developing countries where technology is slow moving can benefit from recycling schemes such as Nokia's.

Near the end of his speech, Steiner pointed out that China was a country leading the world in terms of a "circular economy," where nothing was wasted. A circular economy is a concept where one product is a raw material for another product. And a product could be anything from a hand-held instrument to heat for warming homes.

According to UNEP study, "Some progress in the areas of electronics is being made and I congratulate the Basel Secretariat and responsible members of industry for the Mobile Phone Partnership Initiative. There is a lot that can be done like take back schemes, recycling projects and certification of exports showing them as functioning equipment."

Whatever the case may be, e-waste has definitely grown to international proportions and the concern is very real. It's a reality that landfills are piling up with waste and more electronic consumer products are being manufactured in mass quantities daily. At the same time, massive amount of products are being thrown away by consumer -- most of which are still usable.

It appears as though the world has come along way since the introduction of the "three R's" concept.

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RE: Looks Like
By number999 on 11/30/2006 7:09:35 PM , Rating: 2
Actually I was thinking more along the lines of Adam Smith's Wealth of nations or Malthus' studies of population to be more right than right but Libertarianism is an idea developed from early liberal thought as can be seen in the ideas of John Stuart Mill. I tend somewhat myself towards it myself but find some concepts to be somewhat outdated and for want of a better word limited.

I'm not too sure how these thinkers would've thought of today's gov'ts., the military/industrial complex and some of today's companies having greater earnings than the majority of countries. For smaller scale impacts Libertarianism if fine but I think that sometimes intervention maybe necessary for these really large scale things which the general populace are not aware of or have the ability to make decisions of. Milton Friedman said that companies have no ethical bias. They just do what is legal(mostly ;) ). So it is up to us, the people, to put some ethical basis to the laws that they operate under.

RE: Looks Like
By AxemanFU on 12/1/2006 11:06:16 AM , Rating: 2
Yep, sadly, you cannot trust a company to do the ethical thing, only to comply with legal standards when they suspect that the cost to comply is less than the cost to violate and get caught. Ethics, though, do have their own role in business. Without ethics, you cannot have trust, and without trust, you cannot make deals and do business. In the end, those without ethics will reveal themselves, and have a hard time competing with those that do as they are shut out of business. In the end, it pays to be ethical over all, though certainly a few that aren't get by also.

"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher
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