Green ICT In Our Own Communities

e-waste CRT
Rural E-Waste #1 - December 2017
e-waste CRT plus other waste
Rural E-Waste #1 - 10 Months Later
Removed November 2018
2 e-waste CRTs
Rural E-Waste #2 - May 2018
Removed November 2018
e-waste: CRT & flat screen
Rural E-Waste #3 - October 2018
Removed within a week!

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 a steady increase in local rural e-waste since December 2017. The City of Madison, the jurisdiction responsible for the location of #3, acted quickly to remove the e-waste. Dane County finally removed #1 and #2 almost a year after it was first reported.

I first saw the phenomena during a rural bicycle ride in December 2017 (E-waste #1). The following spring, a sharp-eyed cycling companion spotted two more CRTS further down the same road (E-waste #2). It appeared our rural cycling route was becoming an e-waste dumping ground. More recently, I spotted a combination of a CRT and a flat screen in a city park. (E-waste #3)


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. A similar obsolesce of CRT-based computer monitors in favor of higher-resolution flat screens followed.

The CRT technology used in these analog TVs and in old computer monitors can contain several pounds of lead and other toxic materials. E-waste dumping is toxic waste dumping.

The American Way

The United States lacks a comprehensive and effective national policy about e-waste. My county's and city's approach, like many in America, is a well-intentioned but 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 up to a ninety minute trip to execute the recycling.

A Better Way

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 long term solution. In the meantime, we all have to vigilant about detecting e-waste dumping and supporting local authorities willing to take action. (And pressuring those who are reluctant.)

Signal Crimes

#1 may be an example of a 'signal crimes', where tolerance of an initial violation signals to others that it is socially acceptable to do the same. Five months after we saw #1, we saw #2 along the same rural road. Ten months after #1, we find people have dumped containers of other presumably-toxic materials alongside #1.

Locations and Timeline

American governance is a complex set of overlapping jurisdictions, particularly in rural areas. I have shared this information with a number of entities to discover who will take action.

E-waste: #1: 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

E-waste #2: Portage Road N 43° 9' 11.39, W 89° 18' 29.59, ~1 mile south of #1.

E-waste #3: Cherokee Marsh South boat landing parking lot N 43° 9' 33.10 W 89° 18' 18.69

13 Dec 2017 - Sent emails 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.

16 October 2018 - Emailed city Streets department, which is responsible for local electronics recycling, about #3.

25 October 2018 - Emailed elected county official, again, about #2 and the increase in waste at the #1 site.

25 October 2018 - Emailed city Parks department, which is responsible for this location, about #3.

26 October 2018 - I verified #3 had been removed!

26 November 2018 - Email from my elected county official said #1 and #2 were about to be removed.

26 November 2018 - Verified #1 and #2 were removed!

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.