The rise in electronics use has two significant adverse environmental effects, as outlined by Sara Ahmed for Object Lessons (2016). The mining of the materials needed to produce gadgets has increased significantly, and discarded consumer electronics produce large amounts of electronic waste (e-waste). This e-waste can be reduced by reuse, repair, or re-sale. Up to 50 million tons of electronic waste is made every year. Waste mismanagement is a serious issue. According to the UN, only 10-40% is appropriately disposed of or recycled, resulting in waste tips in developing countries, which affect the ecosystem of humans, animals, and nature.
A study by Kumar et al. (2017), shows that the e-waste generated per inhabitant in any country is correlated with the per capita income of the inhabitants, which suggests that the amount of e-waste generated by each inhabitant increases with the increase in their individual wealth. Furthermore, it is estimated that 50-80% of e-waste is directed to the developing countries from the USA (Namias, 2013; Kulmar et al., 2017). Despite university funded studies, most of the studies on e-waste are by governments. Due to dominant free-market economic systems, there is little room for government regulation as it does not benefit them financially. There is an exception in Europe, where the European Commission fines corporations for planned obsolescence.
Kumar et al., (2017) define three main benefits for recycling: economic benefits, environmental benefits, and public health and safety benefits. These are the reasons I read across many papers and news articles. However, I propose there are cultural benefits too, and that the cultural relevance is equally important, especially regarding the individual or community. While the inaction taken by technology manufacturers and distributors is extremely alarming, consumers, precisely those of developed countries, should still be taking responsibility. Those in the media arts who are also producers of this e-waste included. I believe that media arts practitioners, even those who consider themselves in a niche, can be highly influential, in a positive way, to the greater entertainment and creative industries which create an alarming amount of e-waste and organic waste, as well as carbon emissions due to transport and distribution.
Ahmed, S. F. (2016). The Global Cost of Electronic Waste Computers, phones, and other digital devices increasingly are made to be thrown away—which is bad for both consumers and the environment. An Object Lesson. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/09/the-global-cost-of-electronic-waste/502019/
Kumar, A., Holuszko, M., & Espinosa, D. (2017). E-waste: An overview on generation, collection, legislation and recycling practices. Resources, Conservation and Recycling. 122. 32-42. 10.1016/j.resconrec.2017.01.018.
Namias, J., 2013. The Future of Electronic Waste Recycling in the United States: Obstacles and Domestic Solutions. Columbia University, New York, UnitedStates.