Wasting Away, Electronically

1025 Words5 Pages
The growth of technology is generally exaggerated that as soon as a product hits market, it becomes obsolete. Though this may not be factually true, it does illustrate how rapidly technology advances to newer things. The question then becomes: what happens to the obsolete technology? Often in the United States, individuals simply dispose of their old personal computers, cell phones, or other electronic products with their normal garbage, to be transported to the local landfill. This electronic waste, or “E-waste,” often can be recycled. In developing countries, this e-waste is taken and then harvested for valuable materials, including metals. It is predicted that within the next ten years, the amount of materials heading to these countries will increase by at least fivefold. The process to harvest these materials varies from area to area, but is often hazardous in some manner. Though economically beneficial, it can lessen the quality of life through exposure to toxins. This exposure can come through water contamination, air pollution, or from physically handling the materials. One method to analyze the problem at hand is to use the Respect for Persons approach. Within this approach, the dilemma can be tested using the Rights test. First, the rights involved are the workers’ rights to life and physical integrity. This is a first tier right, according to Gerwith’s scale. However, the other rights involved in this case include the right to work for profit and the right of purpose fulfillment, which are second tier rights. These are involved because the workers are using the money they make from recycling waste to support their lives and families. The action under question here is if the recycling of e-waste should be continued... ... middle of paper ... ...ring community can work towards a new design goal, that of making products easier to recycle and increase sustainability. Currently, part of this ideal is underway. Many companies are now introducing products that contain less and less of these hazardous materials, examples including lead-free solder and fluids that are substitutes for mercury. Lead usage has fallen since the advent of the flat-panel and liquid-display crystal (LCD) monitors, though it has not been eradicated from the technology yet. As a society of engineers, our primary duty is to promote the health of the general public, as from the first canon of the NSPE code. By instructing companies to reduce the hazards included in their products, and by designing products that are easier and safer to recycle, engineers can help fulfill this first canon by making the job of a third-world laborer safer.

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