From the Editor

Throwing Away the Future

Michael L. Sherer

Michael L. Sherer

Why can’t we recycle our old computers?

Nobody told me when I bought my home computer that it might have unhealthy stuff on the inside.

As it turns out, our computers are becoming obsolete with a dizzying speed. And, if and when we want to buy new ones, the retailer won’t be interested in taking the old ones off our hands. (To whom would they sell something that’s yesterday’s news?)

Some citizens’ groups evidently have begun to take notice of the fact that a lot of computers are ending up in junkpiles, and that they have hazardous material inside. Organizations like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition have begun to advocate a new approach to waste management. They call it EPR (“extended producer responsibility”).

The idea is to advocate for legislation that will require manufacturers to make their products with less hazardous elements, so that they become easier to recycle. In return, the computer makers would receive economic incentives rewarding them for their earth-friendly policies.

At least one computer giant doesn’t like this approach. Spokespersons for Sony Corporation showed up at an industry conference in Brussels, Belgium, earlier this year and made a presentation on the need to counteract the activism of the environmental groups. What does Sony propose?

* A “detailed monitoring and contact network on non-government organizations” (the better to keep an eye on them);

* “pre-funding intervention” as a way to interfere with these groups’ fund-raising;

* using “Web investigation agencies” to monitor Web sites and e-mail discussion lists, to stay a jump ahead of such activists.

I don’t know about you, but all of this sounds more than a little bit cynical to me. What am I supposed to do with my computer, which I purchased in good faith? Why is asking the manufacturer to help me solve this problem such a sinister concept?

For more information on efforts to clean up the electronics industry, go to www.svtc. org. (You might also go to and leave the computer maker a message.)