How to Recycle

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The world generates twenty to fifty million metric tons of e-waste each year, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.
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Friday, 18 August 2006

August 1, 2006
The iPod Is Bad Garbage
James Glave

Itching for a sweet new Nokia? It's probably high time. Your friends have been knocking your phone for years. Face it, you're talking into the personal-electronics equivalent of Sputnik. The screen is cracked, the battery is flagging. And no Bluetooth!?

Well hold your horses, says Giles Slade.

In Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America, the Richmond, B.C.-based author explains in painful detail why cast-off cell phones -- and countless other products and electronic devices, from pocket calculators to PCs -- are quietly creating the largest toxic waste stream the world has ever known. The situation is bad, and in three years' time, he notes, it's about to get much worse.

To be clear, Made to Break is not a book about e-waste. (There are several of those out there, including Elizabeth Grossman's excellent High Tech Trash.) Rather, it is a meticulous history of planned obsolescence -- the practice of engineering or designing products in such a manner that they become either socially undesirable or non-functional after a given time period. Under the banner of "innovation." Slade argues that this technical and psychological obsolescence -- and the parallel phenomenon of disposability -- have over the course of a century become so ingrained in western consumer culture that our very economy depends on it to survive.

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