Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

Green innovations offer hope in an e-wasted world

I maintain an ongoing love-hate relationship with consumer electronics. I hate the constant promotional bombardment by electronics manufacturers for cellphones, flat-panel TVs, mp3 players, games and countless other digital distractions. I also hate the waste stream produced by household electronics. Last month, the New York Times Magazine published an excellent piece on this, “The Afterlife of Cellphones.”

While many of us try to recycle our phones, the reality is they too often eventually end up randomly disposed of in developing countries, exposing human and other life to dangerous materials. According to the Times:

In a study published last year, 34 recent-model cellphones were put through a standard E.P.A. test, simulating conditions inside a landfill. All of them leached hazardous amounts of lead — on average, more than 17 times the federal threshold for what constitutes hazardous waste. Under a stricter state of California test, they also leached four other metals above hazardous levels.

The E.P.A. says modern American landfills are designed to keep toxics stewing inside from leaking out, so they don’t contaminate surrounding soil or drinking water. But landfills do fail, says Oladele A. Ogunseitan, an environmental-health scientist at the University of California, Irvine, and an author of last year’s study. More important, he notes, such landfills don’t exist in the developing world. In many places, garbage is tossed into informal dumps or bodies of water or burned in the open air — all dangerous ways of liberating and spreading toxics.

The article doesn’t paint a completely hopeless picture. Industries are developing to reclaim precious metals from e-waste and to refurbish used cellphones and resell them to those who can’t afford new ones. The latter, in theory, reduces the need to make new phones and the energy and materials consumed to produce them.

Which brings me to what I love (I use the term very loosely) about consumer electronics: the innovation harnessed and applied in their design. The innovation I care about most is reducing the environmental impact of electronics. CNET gives coverage today to the Green Gadgets conference in New York. Check out some of the product innovations that promise to do less harm and in some cases improve the quality of life for some of the world’s poor.

My favorite is SunNight Solar’s solar flashlight. The company is also focusing on social issues by encouraging their customers to buy and give one of the flashlights to a person in a developing country for every one they buy for personal use. According to CNET, “The goal is to reduce the use of kerosene lamps, which are unhealthy and dangerous.”

Technical and social innovations like these from SunNight Solar are what give me hope.