Global Epidemic of Electronic Waste

News Abuse
Computer Peripherals in Shopping Cart ca. 2002


Written by: Steven McCombs (California Maritime Academy)

Edited by: Aimee Casey (Diablo Valley College)

Faculty Advisor: Nolan Higdon (California State University, East Bay)

Many stories go unreported by corporate news outlets. The issue of electronic waste was ranked the nineteenth most censored story according Project Censored’s annual publication Censored 2017, but it remains unnoticed by corporate news outlets.  Electronic waste, when recycled improperly, negatively affects local communities across the globe as well as the environment.

It is estimated that almost 3.14 million tons of electronic waste are generated by the U.S. annually and only forty percent of it is recycled. That forty percent of electronic waste, rather than being recycled here at home, is then exported to other countries. The exportation is the result of vague domestic policies and expensive recycling procedures as most electronics must be carefully taken apart because of the toxic metals that could be released including lead, mercury, and cadmium.  Citizens of East and Southeast Asia process much of the electronic waste without safety procedures or regulations at the risk of their personal health and their surrounding environment.

Perpetuated by the lack of corporate oversight and accountability, electronic waste is significant because of the detrimental social and environmental effects. This story is more than just where to put the waste, but how it can be recycled more efficiently without dangerous working conditions and environmental destruction. Entire communities and regions are affected by exposed toxins and increased pollution with health issues ranging from headaches to cancer as a direct result of exposure or indirect result of tainted water supplies. In domestic recycling operations, multiple companies paid fines for issues with electronic waste disposal, mainly in the form of dust that contained hazardous amounts of copper, zinc, and other particles. Technological giant Apple settled to pay $450,000 for shipping waste that was unlabeled to ill-equipped recycling facilities. This negligence put workers at the Apple plant as well as the recycling facility at risk. In addition to Apple, Total Reclaim in Washington received a $444,000 fine for secretly exporting electronics to Hong Kong for disposal. Despite investigation across the globe, the corporate media has largely ignored the issue of electronic waste.

The corporate media has continually committed news abuse when it fails to report the risks of improperly recycled electronic waste while simultaneously leaving the public uniformed regarding recycling their electronics versus throwing them into the trash. Most phones have copper, gold, palladium, and platinum, along with many minerals and compounds that can be extracted out when recycling and used to make new phones. Many corporate news outlets worry about Donald Trump meeting with Kanye West or Ryan Lochte becoming a dad or Kylie Jenner releasing a calendar. Trivial infotainment constantly covers up important stories that people should see and read about. The coverage of electronic waste and recycling by corporate media was very small. On November 11, 2016, TIME published an article about the exportation of recycled electronics to Hong Kong. This revealed that the media simply does not care about the issue of recycling electronic waste properly despite devastating consequences to individuals, their communities, and the environment.

The news abuse committed by the corporate media regarding electronic waste is quite parallel to the story of “Why our Lives Depend on Keeping 80 Percent of Fossil Fuels in the Ground”. Conflicting economic interest from Big Oil funding offered little to no coverage by corporate media outlets yet it is in the best interest of America and the rest of the world to keep the fossil fuels in the ground while simultaneously ending electronic waste pollution. It is a two-way street where both issues can and will negatively affect the earth as well as future generations if the current trends continue.

It is so tough to see the media twist and cover and not cover whatever story they want, but that is the freedom of press. Problems like this, which can directly impact many lives as well as hurt the earth in the process, should be reported to the public. It is more than just a ploy to get more people to recycle their old phones, but a plea for help and a way to get more people involved to fix an issue that can have devastating implications if we continue down the current path.

Steven McCombs is originally from Portland Oregon. He is a Cadet at California State University Maritime Academy studying Marine Transportation. He enjoys snowboarding, wakeboarding, and hiking with friends.   



Corporate Media IssuesCorporate Media IssuesNews

Nolan Higdon is a professor of English, Communication, and History of the US and Latin America in the San Francisco Bay Area. His academic work focuses on nationalism, propaganda, and critical media literacy education. He sits on the boards of the Media Freedom Foundation, Sacred Heart University's Media Literacy and Digital Culture Graduate Program, the Union for Democratic Communications Steering Committee, and the Northwest Alliance For Alternative Media And Education. Higdon is ta co-founder for the Global Critical Media Literacy Project. He has contributed chapters to Censored 2013-2017 as well as Stephen Lendman’s Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks World War III (2014). He has published articles on media and propaganda including “Disinfo Wars: Alex Jones War on Your Mind (2013),” “Millennial Media Revolution (2014),” and “Justice For Sale (2015).” He has been a guest on national radio and television programs.
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