Jennifer Baichwal’s film about Ed Burtinsky, Manufactured Landscapes, seemed to set off a sense of public awareness about the problems of e-waste. By now, a great many, if not most, major media outlets have covered the problem of e-waste to some degree or another; the Globe and Mail, CBC television, and National Geographic are three examples that I’ve come across just recently. The revelation that’s being covered by these stories is that when we throw stuff out, it actually ends up somewhere rather than just disappearing off the face of the earth. In a thought paper for my first women’s studies class (Women and the Environment), I remarked that I found it phenomenal how easy it is for my trash to miraculously disappear from my life the moment I decide to get rid of it. I keep putting garbage out on the curb, and it keeps disappearing! It’s like magic!
Regardless of how many news stories cover this issue, I have the feeling that people are still swept up with the fantasy of easy trash disposal. It pains me to imagine how little would be recycled if the city didn’t come right to our doorsteps to pick up our trash; even the effort of separating our recyclables is becoming too much to bear, and city councils are bowing to the pressure to ease their citizens of this burden. One solution to e-waste that has been thrown around is to have the manufacturers of electronics take responsibility for recycling their goods once their useful life is over, but I think that’s merely a stopgap measure as long as our trash keeps disappearing from our curbs. If anything, landfills should go right in the city centers, and the labour of recycling electronics should be a duty like serving in a jury; maybe then people would actually be disillusioned about the reality of waste disposal.