This is a story about a world of obsessed with stuff. It’s a story about a system in crisis.
We’re trashing the planet, we’re trashing each other,
and we’re not even having fun. the good thing is that when we
start to understand the system we start to see lots of places to step
in and turn these problems into solutions The other day, I couldn’t find my computer charger. My computer is my lifeline
to my work, my friends, my music. So I looked everywhere, even in that drawer where this lives. I know you have one too, a tangle of old chargers, the sad remains of electronics past. How did I end up with so many of these things? It’s not like I’m always after the latest gadget. My old devices broke or became so
obsolete I couldn’t use them anymore. And not one of these old chargers fits my computer. Augh. This isn’t just bad luck. It’s bad design. I call it “designed for the dump.” “Designed for the dump” sounds crazy, right? But 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. In fact it’s a key part of our whole
unsustainable materials economy. Designed for the dump means
making stuff to be thrown away quickly. Today’s electronics are hard to upgrade,
easy to break, and impractical to repair. My DVD player broke and I took it to a shop to get fixed. The repair guy wanted $50 just to look at it! A new one at Target costs $39. In the 1960s, Gordon Moore,
the giant brain and semiconductor pioneer, predicted that electronics designers could double processor speed every 18 months. So far he’s been right. This is called Moore’s Law. But somehow the bosses of these
genius designers got it all twisted up. They seem to think Moore’s Law means every
18 months we have to throw out our old electronics and buy more.
Problem is, the 18 months that we use these things are just a blip in their entire lifecycle. And that’s where these dump designers
aren’t just causing a pain in our wallets. They’re creating a global toxic emergency! See, electronics start where most stuff starts,
in mines and factories. Many of our gadgets are made from
more than 1,000 different materials, shipped from around the world to assembly plants.
There, workers turn them into products, using loads of toxic chemicals, like PVC,
mercury, solvents and flame retardants. Today this usually happens in far
off places that are hard to monitor. But it used to happen near my home, in Silicon Valley, which thanks to the electronics industry
is one of the most poisoned communities in the U.S. IBM’s own data revealed that its workers making
computer chips had 40% more miscarriages and were significantly more likely to die from blood,
brain and kidney cancer. The same thing is starting to happen all around the world. Turns out the high tech industry
isn’t as clean as its image. So, after its toxic trip around the globe,
the gadget lands in my hands. I love it for a year or so and
then it starts drifting further from its place of honor on my desk or in my pocket. Maybe it spends a little time in my garage before being tossed out. And that brings us to disposal, which we think of as the end of its life. But really it’s just moved on to become part
of the mountains of e-waste we make every year. Remember how these devices were packed with toxic chemicals?
Well there’s a simple rule of production: toxics in, toxics out. Computers, cell phones, TVs, all this stuff,
is just waiting to release all their toxics when we throw them away. Some of them are slowly releasing this
stuff even while we’re using them. You know those fat, old TVs that people are
chucking for high-def flat screens? They each have about 5 pounds of lead in them.
Lead! As in lead poisoning! So almost all this e-waste either goes from my garage
to a landfill or it gets shipped overseas to the garage workshop of some guy in Guiyu, China
whose job it is to recycle it. I’ve visited a bunch of these
so-called recycling operations. Workers, without protective gear, sit on the ground,
smashing open electronics to recover the valuable metals inside and chucking or burning
the parts no one will pay them for. So while I’m on to my next gadget, my last gadget is off poisoning families in Guiyu or India or Nigeria. Each year we make 25 million tonnes of e-waste which gets dumped, burned or recycled. And that recycling is anything but green. So are the geniuses who design these electronics actually…
evil geniuses? I don’t think so, because the problems they’re creating
are well hidden even from them. You see, the companies they work for keep these human and environmental costs
out of sight and off their accounting books. It’s all about externalizing the true costs of production. Instead of companies paying to make their facilities
safe the workers pay with their health. Instead of them paying to redesign using less toxics
villagers pay by losing their clean drinking water. Externalizing costs allows companies to keep
designing for the dump – they get the profits and everyone else pays. When we go along with it, it’s like
we’re looking at this toxic mess and saying to companies “you made it, but we’ll deal with it.” I’ve got a better idea. How about
“you made it, you deal with it”? Doesn’t that make more sense? Imagine that instead of all this toxic e-waste piling up in our garages and the streets of Guiyu, we sent it to the garages of the CEOs who made it. You can bet that they’d be on the phone
to their designers demanding they stop designing for the dump. Making companies deal with their e-waste is called
Extended Producer Responsibility or Product Takeback. If all these old gadgets were their problem, it would be cheaper for them to just design
longer lasting, less toxic, and more recyclable products in the first place. They could even make them modular,
so that when one part broke, they could just send us a new piece,
instead of taking back the whole broken mess. Already takeback laws are popping
up all over Europe and Asia. In the U.S. many cities and states
are passing similar laws – these need to be protected and strengthened. It’s time to get these brainiacs working on our side. With takeback laws and citizen action
to demand greener products, we are starting a race to the top,
where designers compete to make long-lasting, toxic-free products. So, let’s have a green Moore’s law. How about: the use of toxic chemicals will be
cut in half every 18 months? The number of workers poisoned will
decline at an even faster rate? We need to give these designers a challenge
they can rise to and do what they do best – innovate. Already, some of them are realizing
they’re too smart to be dump designers and are figuring out how to make computers
without PVC or toxic flame retardants. Good job guys. But we can do even more. When we take our e-waste to recyclers, we can make sure they don’t
export it to developing countries. And when we do need to buy new gadgets,
we can choose greener products. But the truth is:
we are never going to just shop our way out of this problem because the choices available to us at the store
are limited by choices of designers and policymakers outside of the store.
That’s why we need to join with others to demand stronger laws on toxic chemicals
and on banning e-waste exports. There are billions of people out there who want
access to the incredible web of information and entertainment electronics offer. But it’s the access they want, not all that toxic garbage. So let’s get our brains working on
sending that old design for the dump mentality to the dump where it belongs and instead building an electronics industry
and a global society that’s designed to last.