"Story of Stuff" Crusade Takes on E-Waste and Planned Obsolescence

By Jennifer Welsh | November 9, 2010 4:18 pm

The Story of Electronics has made its debut today (teaser above), following the form of the original Story of Stuff video in 2007. The Story of Stuff, written and narrated by Annie Leonard, created waves of discussion about the environment and consumption in classrooms, homes, and workplaces around the country.

She [created the movie], she said, after tiring of traveling often to present her views at philanthropic and environmental conferences. She attributes the response to the video’s simplicity. “A lot of what’s in the film was already out there,” Ms. Leonard said, “but the style of the animation makes it easy to watch. It is a nice counterbalance to the starkness of the facts.” [New York Times]

The new electronics chapter takes a step beyond the original video’s take on the manufacturing process and consumerism to explain the concept of planned obsolescence, the idea that our electronics are being “designed for the dump”–that is, to be cheaply replaceable as quickly as possible. The video makes a point that these cheap electronics come with hidden costs–to factory workers, people in unsafe electronics recycling facilities, and to the environment.

The Story Of Electronics, today, is a tragedy. Its main characters include: executives in charge of consumer electronics companies who allow their designers to use toxic materials and worse; consumers who accept built-in obsolescence and cannot control their appetites for everything from smart phones to high-def TVs; and citizens of developing nations living or working around e-waste, their land and water polluted by PVC, mercury, solvents, flame retardants as a result of another country’s consumer habits. [Tech Crunch]

The story’s solution for this toxic mess? Make products that aren’t toxic, that last longer, and that have replaceable parts. Companies can be encouraged to make these kinds of products by laws that force them to take back obsolete or broken devices and dispose of them correctly, Leonard argues. The video advocates for strict “product take back” laws; such laws have already been enacted in some European and Asian countries, and are beginning to pop up in U.S. cities and states.

The full video is embedded below, and hit up The Story of Stuff Project’s website or YouTube channel for more information and other videos including The Story of Cosmetics and The Story of Bottled Water.

Related content:
80beats: America’s Electronic Waste Is Polluting the Globe
80beats: Government Report Slams EPA for Lax Regulation of Electronic Waste
Discoblog: 2010 Olympic Medals Made From E-Waste

Video: Youtube.com/StoryofStuffProject


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