Yesterday we got rid of some of our electronic waste. Interior Alaska Green Star has an annual recycling program so that all this stuff can get disposed of properly instead of winding up in the landfill, or on it’s way to third world countries. Andrea volunteered at yesterday’s event and dumped off two of our old computers, three CRT monitors, a printer, a VCR, cordless telephone, DVD player and a CD player. The total cost was $75.
Some of the people who showed up didn’t know there was a charge, and at least one guy who wound up leaving said, “Why should I pay when it’s free to go across the street and throw it in the dumpster?” I have no doubt that’s where his electronic waste wound up; on it’s way to the landfill, right next to the Tanana River. According to the Wikipedia article, e-waste represents only 2% of the garbage in our landfills, but is responsible for 70% of overall toxic waste. That’s a pretty big externality, totally unrepresented in the low cost of these items.
I’m glad these recycling programs exist, but I also wish there was a way to encourage electronics manufacturers to make products that were designed for longevity rather than low cost. Some of the things we got rid of were simply obsolete (why keep a seperate CD player when our current combination VCR & DVD player can also play CDs?), but the majority were broken and because replacements are so cheap, it didn’t make sense to repair them. All those low prices we’re paying for our stuff today may turn into a pretty big cleanup bill in the future, whether we’re paying it or not.