E-Waste: Putting the Blame on Others

Trash, to so many Americans is “out of sight, out of mind.” As soon as the garbage truck has taken it away, how many of us actually stop to consider where our garbage is going? This lack of concern is dangerous to have, especially as our waste gets more and more toxic through the creation of “E-waste.” E-waste consists of things like throwaway computers, televisions, cell phones, and anything else that may use electricity or batteries, and can be harmful to the environment and human health. In her novel Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Trash, Heather Rogers explains both the consequences and causes of E-Waste. While her implementation of logos and pathos made a convincing argument that E-waste is a serious problem around the globe, her solutions to this said problem were not convincing.

Rogers effectively uses logos, or logic and statistics, to warn the reader about the dangers of E-waste. She begins by explaining how much E-waste is actually thrown away, stating that nearly 3.2 million tons of technology is thrown out each year in the United States, 50-80% of which is shipped overseas to developing countries (202-3). In these instances, Rogers cites credible sources, which is can be validated in outside sources. For example, according to Brett H. Robinson from the Department of Soil and Physical Sciences, the total global E-Waste production is between 20-25 million tons, where the developing countries that we ship to produce between 0.1-0.33 million tons of waste, as opposed to the 3 million tons made in the United States. This article supports both the pieces of evidence that Rogers provides above, as it shows how her statistics for the United States fit into those for the rest of the globe. Rogers also explains why so much is shipped overseas and cites an EPA study that found that recycling a computer monitor in the United States costs ten times more than it does to ship to China (202). This definitely makes sense, and can be easily proven in an outside source as well. For example, an environmental group called Greenpeace cites that it is cheaper to recycle overseas because laws to protect the workers and environment are not rigorously enforced, something Rogers also brings up when she describes how “more closely monitored dumping at home, low-cost labor abroad, and lack of regulations on the waste streaming out of U.S. ports” all contribute to this “thriving rubbish trade” overseas (203). Citing specific statistics as well as studies helps validate Rogers’ claims that the amount of E-Waste that we produce is dangerous.

Although Rogers implemented logos very effectively, her implementation of pathos, or appeal to emotions, was not as strong as it could have been. She tries to use pathos is to evoke pity and guilt from the reader by explaining what happens to the E-waste that the reader creates. To do this, she explains how sending waste to developing countries is often illegal, an exploitation of poorer workers, and a hazard to both human health and the environment (203). Although this is true, as validated with information found on Greenpeace.Org which states that much of the recycling of E-waste in developing counties is “often done by hand” and “often done by children,” Rogers left out some other important figures which would have helped her argument. For example, Robinson explains how severe the effects of E-waste are on not only those who handle them, but also those who live near the ‘recycling’ plants. He cites the city of Giuyu, China’s largest E-waste recycling site in the world as an example. Here, he explains the level of dioxins, which are one of the most toxic chemicals in existence, are 15-56 times the WHO recommended maximum intake for those who live in the area (188). This is incredibly dangerous as Dioxins, as cited by Rogers, are “carcinogenic, reduce fertility…and compromise the immune system” (162). By including something like Robinson did, Rogers could have used both logos and pathos in one statement, as she could have used a statistic to evoke emotion. Despite leaving out some things that may have strengthened her argument, Rogers’ use of pathos helped enhance her argument and keep it moving along.

Although Rogers clearly demonstrated that there was a large problem with our production and disposal of E-waste, her solutions were rather weak and unrealistic. The main solution that she offers is that we “work to reduce trash before it is made” through “adequate funding and political will” (205). While this idea is good in theory, it will not help with our current issue. Rogers herself states that the current lifespan of a computer is approximately two years (202). Considering this, think of how many computers will need to be disposed of in the following year. According to Robinson, in the next five years 5 billion computers will be trashed (184). If this is the case, how is working to reduce trash in the future going to help us with our current issue? What are we expected to do with these 5 billion computers? Rogers thinks that stronger regulations will be the key. However, according to Matthew J. Realff, professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, 11 countries already have laws prohibiting the import of E-waste (41). Unfortunately, this isn’t doing very much as Greenpeace cites that an estimated 47% of exports are still illegal. Furthermore, there is only so much that can be done with these trashed products once they have been exported. According to Rogers, workers overseas can only do so much to recover materials from disposed of E-Waste. Whatever is left over is dumped into “nearby rice fields, irrigation canals, and along waterways (203).”According to Realff, another large problem with attempting to recycle these products is that the process is so labor intensive, that the value of each recovered material is not anywhere close to the amount of the value of the whole product that it once was. With this being the case, many are not willing to refurbish and recover certain, out-of-style products (43). Therefore, solutions for what we may do now or in the future still remain unclear. By not examining all the factors and consequences, Rogers weakens her own proposed solution.

Rogers uses both logos and pathos in a way that definitely supported her argument about the E-waste problem, but she also could have included several other aspects of these appeals to further strengthen it. However, although she made it clear that there was a problem, she didn’t evaluate the effectiveness and practicality of her proposed solution. Although there does not seem to be an obvious solution at the present, hopefully we can encourage others to be concerned and therefore take responsibility about the whereabouts of their E-waste in the future.

Works Cited

Realff, Matthew J., Michele Raymond, and Jane C. Ammons. “E-Waste: An Opportunity.” Materials Today Jan. 2004: 40-45. Academic Search Premier. Web. 9 Oct. 2010.

Robinson, Brett H. “E-Waste: An Assessment of Global Production and Environmental Impacts.” Science of the Total Environment (2009): 184-89. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Oct. 2010.

Rogers, Heather. Gone Tomorrow: the Hidden Life of Garbage. New York: New, 2005. Print.

“Where Does E-Waste Go?” Greenpeace. UNEP. Web. 27 Oct. 2010. <Greenpeace.org>.

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