When it Comes to e-Waste, Leonard Wants Burden on Producers

Annie Leonard’s at it again, this time divulging the dirty, toxic-filled secrets of the electronics industry in The Story of Electronics. Her point: Because of a designed-for-the-dump culture fostered by the industry, Americans create 25 million tons of e-waste every year. Even when that waste gets “recycled,” the products frequently end up in a foreign country such as China where they are broken open to reclaim minute fragments of reusable or valuable materials inside.
In collaboration with the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, Leonard—known for making attention-grabbing mini-documentaries about stuff in general, bottled water, makeup, and cap and trade—aims to put the burden back on electronics companies. She calls this Product Take Back; so far, 22 of 23 states in the U.S. with laws mandating e-recycling use this approach. Other states introduced similar legislation in 2010.
Why wouldn’t we put the onus on producers? “Designed for the dump sounds crazy, right?” says Leonard, her now familiar voice giving off that calm-but-slightly-disapproving tone. “When you’re trying to sell lots of stuff, it makes perfect sense. It’s a key strategy of the companies that make our electronics.” It means making stuff that’s quickly ready for dumpsters and landfills, products that are hard to upgrade and way too expensive to repair.
What’s more, as soon as we trash our computers and cell phones and video consoles for newer versions, the toxic substances used to create them leech into the environment. “It’s like we’re looking at this toxic mess and saying to companies, ‘You made it, but we’ll deal with it,’” Leonard says. “I’ve got a better idea: How about, ‘You made it, you deal with it.’”

To date, Leonard’s attempts to bring attention to subjects has been wildly successful; her Story of Stuff video has been viewed more than 12 million times. (The other three hit more than 2 million views.) If her latest film does its job and makes the change Leonard says is necessary, the electronics industry will shift from designing its products for the dump to designing them to last.


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