The Story of Too Much Stuff

Moore's Law, formulated by {complink 2657|Intel Corp.} co-founder Gordon Moore, posits that transistor density on integrated circuits, or processor speeds, doubles every 18 months. That's quite different from the way environmentalists think. For them, that 18 months translates into consumers discarding old gadgets for new ones, putting more toxic waste in landfills.

In an effort to spur electronics companies to make less toxic, more easily recyclable, and longer lasting products, several recycling industry advocates got together to produce a movie aimed at educating consumers on what happens to mobile phones, laptops, and other tech gadgets after being discarded.

On Nov. 9, The Story of Stuff Project will release the eight-minute animated movie, The Story of Electronics , at Story of Annie Leonard, the author of the book, The Story of Stuff , published by Free Press of Simon and Schuster earlier this year, wrote the script and hosts the digital movie.

Produced in cooperation with Free Range Studios and the Electronics Takeback Coalition, which promotes green design and responsible recycling in the electronics industry, the movie provides insight into the life cycle of electronics.

In the movie, Leonard attempts to explain the electronics supply chain, from the 1,000 different types of raw materials to shipments around the world. She claims workers in assembly plants turn the materials into products using loads of toxic chemicals like PVS, mercury, solvents, and flame retardants in “far off places” where it is difficult to monitor. In her script, Leonard writes, that it once happened near her home in Silicon Valley, which “thanks to the electronics industry is one of the most poisoned communities in the United States.”

Leonard wants consumers to know the high-tech industry isn't as clean as its image. A little scary to think this might be accurate, but she claims {complink 2470|IBM Corp.} has data revealing its workers making computer chips had 40 percent more miscarriages and were more likely to die from blood, brain, and kidney cancer.

What do you think about educating the public on the importance of recycling? I've never seen ads online or on television — especially this time of year when companies release new phones and gadgets — about how and where to recycle. Are supply chain experts thinking about working with marketing teams inside their companies, especially those that focus on search engine optimization and paid search marketing on {complink 2294|Google}, Bing, and {complink 6518|Yahoo Inc.}?

There are several ways for electronic companies to offset the bad publicity this short movie will arouse and help consumers understand the importance of recycling. Perhaps I'll expand in a follow-up report.

25 comments on “The Story of Too Much Stuff

  1. hwong
    November 9, 2010

    It's great to know we have advocates conducting the awareness program for the general public. I agreed the high-tech companies have done very little to maintain our world green. In the meantime, local communities and schools also need to involve more to educate people how to dispose of electronic wastes. People have to understand the whole practice is all about money you can save for long term. It is an investment. Always try to recylce as much as you can and pretty much anything can be recycled. People always tend to complain the medical insurance premium is too high but the rate is your hands to bring it down if most people are disease free for most of their life. Let's work together and paint a very green picture in our life.

  2. stochastic excursion
    November 9, 2010

    The visionaries that have brought our computing and telecommunications technology so far in the past few decades can only cover so much and clear only so many hurdles.  Electronics technology from a raw materials standpoint appears to be fundamentally the same as when the transistor was invented.  Documentaries like this are a good wake-up call to innovators who need to start moving the raw materials aspect of our technology in a sustainable direction.

  3. Laurie Sullivan
    November 9, 2010

    Good point hwong, but I don't think it's all in the individual consumer's hands. Sometimes corporate greed plays a bigger role. We, as consumers, can only do our part. Everyone needs to work together as a team. I see the problem as not all want to become a team player to fight for a collective cause. That's not to say we should stop trying. We still must do what we can. (You wrote: People always tend to complain the medical insurance premium is too high but the rate is in your hands to bring it down if most people are disease free … )





  4. Laurie Sullivan
    November 9, 2010

    Another good point, stochastic excursion. I'm wondering if sustainability crossed the minds of “visionaries” when creating the technologies.


  5. Clairvoyant
    November 9, 2010

    Great post. This is definitely an issue in today's society, although it is slowly gaining headway. In my opinion, I think large companies and corporations need to do more for recycling, green energy, etc, in order to have a healthy planet in the long run.

  6. tioluwa
    November 10, 2010

    Now with all the scandale around rear earth mining, i think recycling will be a great option, but are the top guns considering it at all? because i don't think the consumers on their own can make the manufactureres go into recycling except through means such as this

  7. Barbara Jorgensen
    November 10, 2010

    The broadcast is a great idea. Look at the impact “An inconvenient Truth” has on awareness of global warming.


  8. Laurie Sullivan
    November 10, 2010

    Thanks Clairvoyant. I really believe consumers need to become more aware and movies like this one help to bring awareness, but it's not enough. The filmmakers who wanted to get the message across must assume the only place to do that is through a little bit of outreach to online reporters. They should have gained sponsorships from electronics companies with a reputation for offering recycling programs to promote the cause in TV, print and radio ads. Get the message out for the good of Mother Earth and the electronics company.


  9. Ariella
    November 10, 2010

    Actually, highly toxic materials have a history of use in industry.  The mad  hatter in Alice in Wonderland represents mad hatter's disease, which was caused by absorption of the mercury used in manufacturing felt hats. In the 20th century, watches gained luminous dials through the application of radioactive substances.  The danger of using radium in this way was only recognized in the middle of the century, and it was phased out around the 60's.  But prior to that, you had the phenomenon of radium girls who suffered the symptoms of radiation poisoning as a result of working with the substance that they would ingest in the process of licking the brushes to restore shape.

  10. Laurie Sullivan
    November 10, 2010

    Well, Tioluwa, I don't think companies are learning. The government seems to be trying, but I'm not sure it's working. I just learned through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that Davis Wire Corp. of Irwindale, Calif., pleaded guilty to one count of negligent discharge of acidic pollutants into a publicly owned treatment works. That's following an Oct. 26 court decision where Davis Wire received a sentence to pay $1.5 million in restitution to the Los Angeles County Sanitation District for damages to the system, along with a $25,000 criminal fine. Davis Wire is a manufacturer of galvanized wire. 


  11. Barbara Jorgensen
    November 10, 2010

    Hi Laurie,

    Your point about companies advertising recycling opportunities along with new products is a great idea! Sometimes it takes just a small prompt to get people moving. Case in point: my family has about 10 used cell phones stored in various places. Every time we get an upgrade, we carry the old phones home too. I wondered why we can't just turn them in to the store when we get the new ones. Turns out we can: Verizon and AT&T have recycling programs that sound fairly simple and they will wipe your data off the phones.

    If these stores made a practice of keeping the old phones, it would help consumers. I understand there are costs associated with this, but certainly among the cell phone manufacturers that sell through these stores they can pony up enough to offset those costs.

    Talk about brand loyalty–if it was Verizon vs AT&T and one store recycles, it would definitely influence my next purchasing decision. Imagine the traction Best Buy could establish. (I am not a fan of Best Buy but that's another matter).

    Does anyone know why electronics retailers don't already do this?

  12. Backorder
    November 11, 2010

    I have recently been very impressed with the recycling intiative from Nokia. I dont know if you have noticed this, but since 2009 Nokia has been running a great “Take-back “campaign, especially in India where they have put around 1300 bins, at  Nokia Care Centers. It feels good to see such an effort from the company which is selling the largest number of mobile phones in the country. Here is a little detail:

  13. Laurie Sullivan
    November 11, 2010


    Thank you for sharing the details about Nokia. They have always been in front of the curve and I'm not surprise to hear about their environmental efforts. Can anyone else point to a take-back program? The more people share this information, the more educated we'll all become. And, the more recycling we can do.


  14. itguyphil
    November 11, 2010

    I wish there would be more of that in the U.S. There are so many vendors that make products that have some by-product that is recyclable. Simply because there are not many programs that highlight the ability to dispose of the parts in a recyclable manner, most people throw them in the trash.

  15. Ms. Daisy
    November 11, 2010

    Thanks for this story on too much stuff. One issue raised here is that of how do we manage our resources and reduce the impact of electronic hypes that has led to people buying new phones almos annually, and changed simple means of communication into both entertainment and lifestyle tool. There is nothing wrong in having a lot of stuff, but how are the things we have adding to or taking away from the quality of human interactions which is the basis for relationships and the well being of the human race. The yearly changes in the phones and additional applications has improved our day to lives but added more stressors too-the blackberry addiction for some!

    The main issue in this story is how do we recycle the enormous waste and bye products of these stuff?

  16. Laurie Sullivan
    November 12, 2010

    I know it sounds like wishful thinking, Ms. Daisy, but it seems that the manufacturers of raw materials need to chime in and develop these products in a eco-friendly way. The problem I see is that eco-friendly ways are way too expensive, which increases the cost for production and shrinks profits.

    Any manufacturers out there have a solution or at least a bud or seed of a solution that we can discuss?

    I had an interesting conversation last night at dinner with someone who owns a plastics distributor. I live in southern California. Most manufacturing moved out of So-Cal (local lingo for southern California) long ago because of strict guidelines. Some of the plants, as you know, moved to China. But what if these manufacturers spent time on researching eco-friendly reusable products or materials that dissolve and become (good) food for Mother Earth rather than poison? Maybe they do or did.

    Anyone reading this from Dow that can chime in? 


  17. Parser
    November 12, 2010

    I really think that making things more lasting is not a solution because of obsolesces. Technical advances are simple advances and things become more useful in many ways. The aim would be to make things less polluting, recyclable and biodegradable. One obvious place to start is education and recycling places accessibility. Almost all electronic accessories like wall-brick power supplies, computer mice and the like have stamps somewhere on their cases to recycle and not to dispose to garbage cans. Who is really looking at it? A few people per 1000 maybe do. My community has used batteries collection and because it is California law everyone is informed and knows where drop-off places are. More power to it. 

  18. Backorder
    November 13, 2010

    I remember one of the rechargeable battery recycling program, which turned out to be pretty successful ! It was called Call2Recycle and can be found at Actually, several of the major consumer electronics companies including Sony and Samsung have been running similar take-back campaigns as that of Nokia. I am not too sure if they have put as many drop off points as them, but they certainly made news couple of years back about the initiatives. I think, in some of the cases, recycling might be driven by a cost-benefit analysis where useful raw-material could be recovered from the equipment. I would be more concerned about the material used in components which have limited re-use. People who actually notice the correct way of disposal are few, and this could be a health hazard for the society.

  19. SP
    November 17, 2010

    A very good initiative to educate people via movie. Is it out now? Do you have the link to watch it. I would love to watch it. Yes electronics touches everyone's life very closely. The amount of waste electronics industry would produce is huge and proper disposal is necessary. Its important to educate people and more importantly make provision where they can dispose off these tech wastes. I was reading a story few months back where many people died because they didnt know the product they were dealing with was radioactive and there is a different procedure to dispose it. They just treated it like any other scrap.

  20. Laurie Sullivan
    November 18, 2010

    Hello SP,

    Here are a couple of links for you. YouTube is a wonderful thing.



  21. Susan Fourtané
    November 22, 2010

    Hello, Laurie

    Excellent article. Thanks for posting the link to the short film. I've given it some thought and I couldn't come up with any memory of advertising or campaign about educating the public in recycling electronics. 

    It will be great to follow your follow-up report on this article. We all could help a little by passing this on, posting it on FB, for instance, making people more aware of the importance of the matter.


  22. saranyatil
    November 22, 2010

    “Recycling” word is being hyped or being used in maximum along with GREEN. all the countries are aiming at recycling most of the materials it can be plastics, papers electronic components everything and they are also finding different techniques to recycle them. many asian companies have started to recycle the water at a great extent within the company this initiative has been taking place for a long time now its high time that we need to protect our nation each one of us should involve in campaigns, start advertising in companies and creat awareness.

  23. Laurie Sullivan
    November 22, 2010

    Thanks, Susan, for taking the time to post. Yes, Facebook and YouTube are two free services that electronics companies can tap to get started, so it makes sense for even for small companies with tiny or non-existent marketing budgets to get involved by providing consumers with tips on how to recycle or perhaps highlight the content in their components or platforms. They can target the message to consumers or the businesses that have the potential to use their products. Even if one person sees the video and gets the message it's worth the company's time because of the positive branding it can spark. 

  24. Tim Votapka
    November 23, 2010

    I'm grateful for the attention and efforts being applied to the “green.” Back in my reporter days I used to ask QC and warehouse managers about this all the time and they predicted this day would come. One proactive company made a couple of attempts to eliminate expensive plastics from its packaging area, using biodegradable material to replace styro-foam peanuts. Only problem was the newer material contained corn starch which attracted some undesirable critters that were not in the OEM's specs. They paid the exterminator's bill and went back to the pink ESD-safe material.

  25. Susan Fourtané
    November 25, 2010

    Laurie, exactly! Social media is a great way for companies that want to reach masses. If only they started campaigns pro-recycling (I haven't seen any, and you?) I am sure in no time good results could be achieved. 


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