The Story of…Sending E-waste to Electronics CEOs’ Homes

If you haven’t watched it yet, below is the latest installment in the Story of Stuff Project: The Story of Electronics.

In essence, the film is a straightforward critique of the electronics industry and how these goods are currently “designed for the dump,” not being easily repairable and not having components that can be used in future designs. Annie gives a great example of phone chargers, which could easily be based on a uniform design so that you can use the same cord for all of your products, even if you update your phone.

Of course, Annie then draws attention to the ecological and health repercussions of this design failure, drawing attention to the toxic fumes that manufacturers, consumers, and recyclers of electronics all inhale. She concludes with some suggestions for action, encouraging people to advocate for improved regulation of this sector and to demand “stronger laws on toxic chemicals, and banning e-waste exports,” particularly to developing countries. (Of course, we’re also toxifying workers who recycle e-waste right here in the U.S.—like the prisoners who are forced to recycle e-waste at these 10 federal prisons—so it would be nice if Annie could expand her suggestion to protect recyclers’ rights regardless of their location.)

But ultimately, these proposals are pretty par for the course. And while they are essential steps (and have been advocated for by The Story of Electronics partner Electronics Takeback Coalition and others, they probably won’t be enough to get the job done (especially as demand for these goods is artificially stimulated through marketing and so the sales of gadgets grow bigger every year).

That’s why I got so excited when I heard Annie’s very interesting proposal—the gem of the film in my opinion. Annie asks, what if we sent our electronics waste “to the CEOs that made it?” While I’m sure Annie didn’t mean that literally, I think it’s a brilliant idea. Imagine hundreds of pounds of e-waste arriving at the homes of Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Léo Apotheker of HP, and other big-brand CEOs. At the very least they (or their domestic staff more likely) would have to cart the stuff to their corporate facilities so that they can ship them to an e-cycler, which should generate some good media attention (and would feel really good, too). At best, however, this might actually have the effect that Annie suggests, where CEOs would finally start becoming strong advocates for redesigning their products.

With that said, I want to start the organizing process. A quick search provided me with Steve Jobs’ address, so when your next iPod, iPhone, iPad, MacBook, or whatever else that Apple made breaks, please send it to:

Michael Dell's House: clearly enough space to store some e-waste

Steve Jobs
2101 Waverley Street
Palo Alto, CA 94301

(And yes this is really his home—confirm that here.)

And if you’re a Dell user send your old computer junk to:

Michael Dell
3501 Cassava Drive
Austin, TX 78746

This one took a lot more work to find but you can check it out here.

Better yet, do a “broken-electronics” drive in your community or send out an email to your friends and ship a really big box all at once, which I imagine would have a much bigger impact—especially if you call a press conference at the post office when you send it off (and remember to support the post office, not UPS or FedEx).

Or even better than that, let’s coordinate a Christmas bombardment, timing these many community drives for early December, so that a barrage of e-waste packages arrives just in time for Christmas. It isn’t lumps of coal we’re sending—it’s much, much worse. That gives us a couple of weeks to gather the goods (or the “not-so-goods” more accurately) and ship them off to Steve Jobs and others.

If you have other CEO home addresses, please post them in the comments. And please share this idea with local environmental groups in your area and others you know who would be interested (and send me a note—if this idea inspires others, I’m happy to coordinate the progress of community e-waste drives here on Transforming Cultures or another website). This could be a very effective means of accelerating the design changes that the electronics industry so urgently needs (not to mention a good way to clean out the e-junk from your closets and garages).

Let the barrage begin!

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