Green ICT In Our Own Communities

We have much to learn from all the global Green ICT activities, but we can't forget to pay attention to our own communities. I've been documenting rural e-waste in my own area since April, as well as the lack of interest from local authorities. This latest e-waste dump site is a a public boat launch. Note that flat screen televisions are starting to show up alongside CRT units. This newer technology has smaller amounts of toxic materials than the older CRTs, but it is still pollution.

I saw the phenomena during a rural bicycle ride. Months after alerting public and private entities, the toxic waste is still there! Worse yet, a sharp-eyed friend spotted two more further down the same road on a subsequent ride. It appeared our rural cycling route was becoming an e-waste dumping ground.

The United States converted to over-the-air digital television (OTA DTV) eight years ago. No attention was given to analog TV e-waste during the DTV conversion planning and the consequences are still with us.

This old TV set is in the woods along a country road. The CRT technology used in these analog TVs and in old computer monitors can contain several pounds of lead and other toxic materials.

Action Plan

I could have ignored the problem or removed the e-waste myself, but these alternatives would obscure the larger issues how the system handles abandoned e-waste. Also, I consider 'vigilante' action to reflect an assessment of government failure. But i am rethinking my position as time drags on and nothing is done.

American governance is a complex set of overlapping jurisdictions, particularly in rural areas. I posted the location information and shared it with a number of entities to discover who will take action.

SW corner of parking lot across the street from Burke Lutheran Church
5720 Portage Road, Town of Burke, Dane County, WI
N 43° 9' 33.23, W 89° 18' 18.63

(Lack of) Progress Report

13 Dec 2017 - Emailed to published contacts at the probable property owner, the town, and the county. No one acknowledged the email.

08 Jan 2018 - Emailed my elected county official and received a positive response, but there is no indication she found a county department willing to take ownership.

11 Apr 2018 - Emailed local Sierra Club chapter. They suggested I contact a state agency and offered to look into it at the county level, but no effective follow-up yet.

('State' represents a higher level of government than 'county' in America.)

12 Apr 2018 - Emailed state electronic recycling office. This office responded promptly, but said the removal of e-waste is the responsibility of the property owner. When I pressed for a more effective approach, the state replied that this was a local issue, not their responsibility.

12 May 2018 - Original e-waste still there. Two more found ~1 mi south along same road at N 43° 9' 11.39, W 89° 18' 29.59. This may be an example of "signal crime", where tolerance of the first illegal dumping signals to others that it is socially acceptable to do the same.

12 Jul 2018 - All e-waste still there.

15 Oct 2018 - Third rural e-waste site discovered.

The Wisconsin Way

The state's response clarified the issue for me. The e-waste is on private property. Wisconsin is considered to be a "red" state politically. This means the culture places a high premium on private property rights, it discourages government intervention for the common good, and it does not consider a clean environment to be a priority. It is not surprising that no state/county/local agency wants to deal with this, particularly since the first e-waste is likely on church property.

It also implies that if someone were to enter the property and remove the e-waste, they would be technically guilty of trespass and theft!

What is most frustrating is that the county says that working with the property owner is a state issue, the state says it is a local issue, and the local municipality was unresponsive to my initial contact.

A Better Way

Our county's approach, like many in America, is a deeply flawed one that places the burden on the individual to ensure that e-waste is properly disposed of. Each CRT disposal requires the individual to transport a heavy item to a central recycling site that can be as much as forty minutes away, then pay a US$15 fee. This can be a significant burden of time, money, and effort, particularly for a lower-income person working multiple low-wage jobs. The federal minimum wage is US$7.25/hour, which means a person at this income level would have to work almost three hours just to net enough money to pay the fee. Plus the up to two hours out of work to execute the recycling.

This approach also make local action subject to the political climate, as appears to be the case here.

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) integrates the environmental costs of product life cycles into the market price of the products. One cost, that of responsible e-waste disposal, can be integrated into product prices by requiring the manufacturer to assume that responsibility. This is sometimes called 'take-back'. The European Commission's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive explicitly places this responsibility on consumer electronics manufacturers so that all consumers can dispose of their e-waste easily and free of charge.

Moving America to an ERP system is the best Action Plan of all.

E-waste everywhere: seen during a hike in Ottawa National Forest near Lake Superior

More Green ICT in my community

Sustainability in the City of Madison's municipal ICT

E-waste collection at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

For more about e-waste worldwide, click on the 'recycle' tag at the top of this post.

For more about Green ICT and media technology, click on the 'Green media' tag at the top of this post.