Can The Story Of Electronics End Happily Ever After?

The Story Of Electronics debuts online today, the latest in a series of short films by Annie Leonard, whose original viral video The Story Of Stuff surpassed 12 million views. This installment explains ‘planned obsolescence’— electronics designed to be replaced as quickly as possible—and its often hidden consequences for tech workers, consumers and the environment.

The Electronics TakeBack Coalition— a group that advocates for sustainable design and electronics producer responsibility— joined as a co-producer, framing issues and providing research for the script, working with Leonard’s long time creative partners Free Range Studios.

The Story Of Electronics, today, is a tragedy. Its main characters include: executives in charge of consumer electronics companies who allow their designers to use toxic materials and worse; consumers who accept built-in obsolescence and cannot control their appetites for everything from smart phones to high-def TVs; and citizens of developing nations living or working around e-waste, their land and water polluted by PVC, mercury, solvents, flame retardants as a result of another country’s consumer habits.

The video (embedded below) covers some startling facts about e-waste including:

    Typical “fat” TVs, dumped to make way for flat screen, each have about 5 pounds of lead in them

    It costs more to repair a DVD player than it does to buy a new one today

    Every year, consumers create 25 metric tonnes of electronics waste

    Computer factory workers, in a recent study, had 40% more miscarriages than the general population (thanks to exposure to toxic materials)

A national coordinator with The Electronics TakeBack Coalition who worked on this project, Barbara Kyle, added to that list:

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found that we are still trashing about 85% of our electronics, with only 15% is getting into the hands of recyclers. We’re exporting a lot of that still, which means [America’s] e-waste strategy is to literally poison people in other parts of the globe. This has happened long enough that scientists have been able to go and find adults with high dioxin levels, and kids with high lead poisoning from our e-waste. We’ve got to look at the big picture here and think beyond ‘What does this product do for me,’ and ask ‘When I’m done with it, where will it go?'”

The Story Of Electronics and Electronics TakeBack Coalition websites present ideas about how to turn the tragedy around, thankfully. Kyle suggests:

    Asking manufacturers to design and make more recyclable, longer lasting, non-toxic products

    Sponsoring or participating in design competitions (like this one) that encourage sustainable innovation

    When they’re spent, taking electronics to E-Stewards, recyclers that promise not to export them

    Supporting legislation that would curb exports of toxic e-waste, at the moment the U.S. HR 6252

    Buying from companies that take back electronics when they are broken or obsolete, to dispose of them responsibly