Americans Turning Over Electronics 400 Million Times a Year

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A 1986 Portland. Free to a good home. Still works.

I'll soon be dragging an old TV to the curb. 24 years old. Made in Korea. It still works, and someone will surely put it to good use. The curb outside my house works that way. But it got me thinking, "Do they make anything that lasts that long anymore?" It's surely not the idea. A new "Tackling High Tech Trash" report from the national policy center Demos notes that the average U.S. household is home to 18 to 24 devices, with bargains and manufacturers trying constantly to get people to replace what's barely old with something "new and improved."The Demos report, written by journalist Elizabeth Grossman, says that piles of discarded electronics, or e-waste, are growing here without enough outlets for proper disposal.

While technological developments have driven down the cost of electronics, "we have a real crisis of responsibility here, because our consumption of high-tech electronics has far outstripped our ability to handle all the waste we're leaving behind with each new upgrade," according to Demos program director Lew Daly, who commissioned and edited the report for Demos' Sustainable Progress Initiative.

Some stats to consider:

Americans own about 3 billion electronic products, with a turnover rate of about 400 million units a year.

Most of those 400 million-some units end up in dumps and incinerators. The small percentage that are recycled are often handled unsafely in developing countries.

Electronics recycling is mandatory in the European Union, Japan, Taiwan, Australia and South Korea. In the U.S., about two dozen states have passed some kind of electronics recycling bill.

So what's a solution?

"Ultimately, controlling the problem of e-waste has to begin with how products are designed and the materials they contain," Daly says.

"We need products that are better designed, more adaptable for longer life-spans, and less toxic when they're thrown away. Along with the public sector and consumers themselves, producers in this very profitable industry need to take more responsibility for the disposal costs that, to this point, have been borne largely by local communities and the environment. For all involved, the most cost-effective way of doing that is by innovation in the products themselves."

From the looks of this report, manufacturers should go back to making longer-lasting products like they used to in the "olden days."

More on E-Waste
"High Tech Trash": A Book Review
E-Waste in India To Rise 500% by 2020
The Story of Electronics by Annie Leonard (Video)

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