The Dangers of “Not in My Back Yard” ThinkingSustainability
In common sustainability parlance, the practice of making environmental risks somebody else’s problem is known as NIMBY – or “Not In My Back Yard.” In the world of e-waste, huge strides have been taken to reduce the dumping of unwanted electronics on vulnerable communities, but according to the World Economic Forum, “83% of e-waste is not being collected,” meaning it’s likely landing in landfills that were not designed for hazardous waste, and e-waste is hazardous waste.
Parallel to NIMBY, in my worldview, is “Out of Sight, Out of Mind.” And this kind of myopia continues to thwart folks trying to combat climate change. It seems that unless the climate crisis starts to impact us in a very personal way, we will have a hard time connecting the dots between particles of carbon in the atmosphere and climate refugees across the globe.
The problem is this. My back yard is your back yard. The effects of wildfires burning in California were felt along the East Coast. Canada’s wildfires sent “vertically integrated” smoke south, “triggering air quality alerts for more than a dozen states from Montana to Vermont, with some smoke reaching as far South as Alabama.” And just because we don’t see the consequences of the choices we are making directly doesn’t mean that we won’t ultimately feel them.
Today, more than ever, the perils of such insular thinking are coming home to roost in ways more costly than ever fathomed. The flooding in Vermont this summer, for example, caused destruction not only of homes and businesses, but also of farms. Meanwhile droughts in Midwest are threatening corn crops. Food prices, already on the rise, will become ever-more-impacted by climate events.
In case you don’t think that the statistic of 83% of e-waste not being collected doesn’t really affect you, consider that e-waste comprises 70% of our overall toxic waste and that 85% of e-waste is sent to landfills or incinerators. Landfills are not designed to handle toxic waste and the toxins that leach out can poison the ground and water supply. According to the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), “All landfills leak – some over time and some from day one of operation.” And incinerators send the toxins into the air. Ultimately, it’s the water we drink and the air we breathe.
Further, the materials needed to create new electronics are in limited supply. The more we rely on electronics, the more electronics we need. New electronic-based applications emerge constantly including the technologies critical to renewable energy creation, electric vehicles, and advances in medicine. Companies creating new electronics are attempting to reclaim materials from unwanted electronics, but that source is insufficient for the projected need. Because insufficient devices find their way to recycling, new materials will need to be mined at high cost – both to human health and the environment. And the availability of some kinds of materials, like rare earth metals, may be subject to geopolitical risk.
We are one planet, one atmosphere, one back yard. We are interconnected, interdependent and entangled. At illumynt we are working to make sustainable choices in both our operations and in the products and services we offer. No asset we receive is ever sent to landfill or incinerated. Our mission is to identify new opportunities for used technology. What can’t be reused is responsibly recycled, returning valuable materials for use in new manufacturing.
Be sure to read my continuing blog series as I discuss all things related to sustainable electronics.