Amazing Race Contestants Break Into e-Waste, Make Light of Tragedy of Toxins

smashed electronics photo

Photo by takomabibelot via Flickr CC
(re)blog ripped into this week's episode of The Amazing Race, and rightly so. In one of the challenges, contestants were to hunker down in a e-waste dump and - in the rough, panicked manner that the contestants usually have during challenges - disassemble discarded electronics, exposing themselves and everyone working in the dump on a daily basis to dangerous toxins. Rather than treating it as a frightening lesson in how terrible these e-waste dumps are for people and the environment, the challenge was labeled by the show as a primer in electronics recycling. They got more than just that wrong.

The Amazing Race airs on CBS, which also brought us the documentary about e-waste dumps we posted about a year ago. So, what happened? Why this disconnect between shows? Instead of being educational, it was horrifying for anyone familiar with e-waste problems, and was de-educational for anyone just learning about issues with electronics recycling.

(re)blog writes, "The first few contestants attacked the devices with hammers and screw drivers, but before the end, one of the more boisterous players was bashing the devices like Bam-Bam from The Flintstones, ripping away the plastic facade and yanking out whatever he found inside. He inferred that he was a better player because he took to Neanderthal destruction tactics."

Except those tactics show just how much of a Neanderthal he is - smashing electronics like that is anything but healthy or strategic. As (re)blog points out, the show missed a huge opportunity to educate people about long-term health impacts on people working inside these dumps due to improper, toxic e-waste recycling techniques. The fact that they chose this challenge at all is highly questionable, and the fact that they glossed over an opportunity to address a serious problem (how about even mentioning that these places wouldn't exist if the Americans watching the show would quit consuming electronics like candy?) makes it unacceptable.

The segment managed to show, but without commentary, how dangerous the dumps are for those who work in it - the contestants wore safety goggles and gloves while smashing apart circuit boards. The workers watching nearby continued on without any of this safety equipment. But without making this obvious to viewers, it is likely most barely noticed.

(re)blog nails it with this: "The shame for this despicable exhibition should go directly to the producers of the series, who apparently are so ignorant of the e-waste crisis that they think it should be fun for people to expose themselves to deadly toxins just as the indigent workers in Vietnam and other developing nations are exposed to dangerous scrap."

We couldn't agree more.

Read the full post at (re)blog. The blog is part of Redemtech, a company that works to boost efficient use of IT equipment, and keep electronics in the consumer stream.

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