We seem to be losing a word in this environmentally conscious world — and the world of electronics is leading the way. For some years, the verbs “reduce,” “recycle,” and “reuse” have been linked in environmental advertising campaigns. Perhaps it has been little noticed that automobiles have been “recycled” for years in the form of used cars. More correctly, that’s “reuse,” and apparently there’s a movement to make reused cars go away. The recent “Cash for Clunkers” legislation has three primary objectives: increase new-car sales, improve the environment, and stimulate the economy. The bill would provide consumers with a voucher (up to $4,500) to purchase a new vehicle to completely scrap the old one. The effect on the environmental world would be to leave us with “reduce” and “recycle.” We can kiss “reuse” goodbye.
Reusing old cars includes putting up with old standards of gas mileage, acceptable when gas was “cheap,” which it isn’t anymore. Electronic devices, such as televisions, refrigerators, computers, microwave ovens, and so forth have a similar issue. Older models use more electricity than newer ones, so newer is better. Not to mention that newer models do things the older ones didn’t – from televisions that take digital rather than analog signals to computers that have numerous built-in peripherals and functionality that didn’t exist when the older models were new. (Some years ago, Hearst was giving old computers to employees to take home, and one secretary’s grandson wanted to know, “Grandma, where’s the mouse?”) The concept of a “used computer lot” never caught on and never will.
Reducing makes sense, unless you are in a business trying to sell things and make money, not to mention employ people. This is a consumer society. We depend on people buying things, new things, hopefully useful new things, but the important point is that we are expected to buy, not reduce. Maybe someone will figure out how to buy and reduce. That will keep everyone employed and environmentally friendly.
So we are left with recycling. What that means is that we turn old things into raw materials again, which is what the Federal government wants to do with automobiles. That’s been done for years with paper and metals. In my childhood, going to the junkyard with newspapers and metal cans used to be a personal fundraiser, along with taking soda pop bottles back to the supermarket for five-cent deposit refunds. Today paper and metal are collected by city sanitation departments, and only the poor make a concerted effort to collect deposit bottles – still five cents despite the great increase in the price of soda pop.
We need oversight to see that recycling really takes place. It’s fine to buy the tools of recycling — bags and containers to put the recyclables in — but what really happens to recyclables? To some extent we know. We can buy all sorts of paper products made, as one advertisement puts it, “from paper, not from trees.” We are able to re-form steel cans into new stee. And, with some environmental impact of its own, we can do the same with aluminum cans. Plastics can be made into new tote bags – I know that because I see people walking around with bags that proclaim, “This bag was made from recycled plastic bags.” Information Week recently gave us a behind-the-scenes look at how Hewlett-Packard recycles spent ink cartridges (Inside HP’s Ink Jet Cartridge Recycling Process
http://links.techwebnewsletters.com/servlet/MailView?ms=MzIyMjE0MzQS1&r=MTI2ODc0ODM5MAS2&j=NDY5MjQ5NzAS1&mt=1&rt=0); InformationWeek Daily – Monday, March 30, 2009). I was surprised that HP didn’t simply refill old cartridges with new ink.
But there has to be more recycling news. For instance, what happens to old electronic components? What do they become? It’s obvious that we don’t want to reuse them and we don’t want to reduce buying new electronic gadgets. How would we blog without a means to do so?
5 Things To Do With Dead PC Hardware http://www.informationweek.com/news/hardware/desktop/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=217100142&cid=alert_art_pertech_d_su
Inside HP’s Ink Jet Cartridge Recycling Process
InformationWeek Daily – Monday, March 30, 2009