Breaking the e-world addiction

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

At a recent energy meeting, a committee member pulled out what looked like a phone and proudly claimed he could read the electrical production in another building and turn off a bank of lights he had left on, thus saving energy. We inquired what he was using and where it was available. He called it a “Wii U” and said they were available at Best Buy.

We initially considered buying one, but soon had second thoughts. After our initial enthusiasm for another technological device, we wondered about the environmental impact of making and disposing of them. We provided an opportunity for participants to dispose of electronic devices at last year’s Illinois Renewable Energy Fair. The collection service told us it was the best response they had that year.

At his birthday party, a friend’s mother commented that when they buy any new electronic device, they save the old one and store it in their basement. Another person indicated they have filled both their basement and half of their garage with old devices.

We have been replacing existing cell phones with new ones every couple of years when we realized that for about 30 years we had reliable phone service and never replaced the phone. Of course, it was land-based and lacked the convenience of a mobile phone. Planned obsolescence is alive and well in the electronic world.

In her column, Victoria Woolastan points out that, globally, landfills are overflowing with unwanted electronics. Nearly 50 million tons of electrical and electronic goods were disposed of in 2012. This amount is expected to increase by a third by the end of 2017. On a per-person basis, the United States is second to Qatar in disposing of 63.3 pounds per person, while Qatar leads the world in disposing of 139 pounds per person.

A U.K. research report found one in three people “needlessly dumps devices such as mobiles, games, consoles, satnavs, MP3’s and digital cameras.” Some “1.2 million people claim to have never taken their electronic gift out of the box [while another million admit] re-gifting such presents to someone else. Nearly 600,000 people have returned or exchanged an electronic gift.” We know a young man who has stacks of unopened gifts in his room. Affluenza remains alive and well.

Beyond the waste of resources are the adverse environmental and health effects of primitive waste recycling programs common in low-income countries. Within the U.S. Congress, a bill was introduced to ban the shipment of e-waste out of the country. The United Nations has initiated a comprehensive mapped and linked database showing e-waste volume by country, along with texts to generate a better awareness of the problem and improve policy-making in both the public and private sectors.

Rather than reinforcing the e-world through gift-giving, break the screen addiction and give some personal time and effort to people important to you. Try a walk in the snow through a natural area, or a winter cookout or an old-fashioned picnic for a holiday dinner. Return to what’s real.

We can take our electronics to the Kreider Center in Dixon, Ill. Readers might find similar sites locally. If not, watch for your local recycling day.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail

From the Dec. 25-31, 2013, issue

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