Tag Archives | Environment

Another DTV Transition Cost: Tech Trash

Tomorrow the United States will finally make the transition to digital television. The government went to great expense to ensure a smooth transition, and planned it for years. But what happens to all those aging TVs when people toss the rabbit ears and decide to buy a new set?

The answer: no one really knows. CBS ran a report called “The Electronic Wasteland” on “60 Minutes” in November 2008 that tracked some of the tech trash back to rural areas of China. Children were found with high levels of lead in their blood, and played in toxic ash. Government officials, gangsters, and economically disadvantaged people were complicit in hiding the activity.

E-waste from cell phones, monitors, and PCs contains cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, and PVCs. CBS’s report said that the U.S. municipal waste stream contains 130,000 computers a day, and 100 million cells phones per year. Those toxins can lead to cancer, lead poisoning, and kidney disease. Tha’s why there are recycling centers, right?

As it turns out, even some recycling programs are fraudulent. Last month, an environmental group called Basel Action Network (BAN) uncovered a recycling scheme that was sponsored by the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. The tech trash that was supposed to be recycled was tracked to international shipping containers.

That violates domestic and international law that is supposed to protect developing nations from environment discrimination.

We spent billions to keep our TVs broadcasting, why not spend money to manage toxins? Here’s a thought: hardware makers should be required to receive and process their old products, and you and I should absorb some of that cost.


Buying a CD? How About a Side of Carbon Offsets?

cdcaseIf you’re among the steadily shrinking group of consumers that purchases music CDs, you probably don’t think much about the materials used in packaging, but like any piece of plastic or paperboard, there’s a bit of environmental destruction involved in its production.

Setting out to tackle this problem with a study of sustainable CD packaging, the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Association of Recording Merchandisers offered up an interesting possibility: Buried deep in the 66-page report (PDF), released this week, is a suggestion to sell carbon offsets to individual consumers.

The study notes that Orbitz (and now Expedia and Travelocity) offer a similar option to their customers. The price of the offset is added to the bill, and the money goes to creators of sustainable energy and other eco-friendly causes.

In the music industry’s version, a customer could either buy a credit online or at a retail store when purchasing the CD. For incentive, the report talks of “exclusive access to merchandise or special offers.” Digital downloaders could get in on the act as well, as online music also carries “significant environmental impacts associated with running download servers and maintaining IT infrastructure, in addition to the amortized impacts of CD recording and production,” the study says.

As recently as today, Washington is considering a cap-and-trade program that would likely apply to CD packaging. Loading some of the burden onto the consumer would take pressure off the recording industry, but it runs the risk of guilt-tripping customers. Hopefully the incentives offered by the record labels would make carbon offsets feel more like a partnership than a way for big business to dodge taxes.

Of course, all of this is theoretical at the moment. I’ve called a spokesman at the RIAA to ask where this initiative stands, and I’ll post the response if it comes. Update: Okay, this came in pretty much immediately after I clicked “Publish.” Spokeswoman Cara Duckworth said the study is analysis and advisory. “It’s up to each company to determine what best works with their individual business plan,” she said.

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Is Googling Bad For the Environment?

teakettle“Performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea, according to new research.” So begins a story in the UK’s TimesOnline on a Harvard researcher’s upcoming study on computing’s environmental impact. I’m not sure what to make of that stat–is it a given that making a cup of tea is a more worthy undertaking than doing two Google searches? (The article’s in a British publication, so maybe so.)

But Google has responded in a blog post, saying that it runs the world’s most energy-efficient data centers and that the study’s math is all wrong. Driving a car for .6 of a mile, Google says, creates as much greenhouse gases as a thousand Google searches.

None of these calculations strike me as being terribly valuable. Every search performed on Google has a different worth–or, at least, one performed by a cancer researcher in his or her work is surely more valutable than one performed by someone in search of funny pictures of cats, reviews of Adam Sandler movies, or porn. And why get uptight about the environmental impact of something so basically useful as Googling until we’ve shut down all ferris wheels, shoe-polishing machines, factories that produce whoopie cushions, and other power-hungry institutions that aren’t essential to humanity’s survival?

Anyhow, would you cut down on Web searching in the interest of being green?