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High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health [Paperback]

by Elizabeth Grossman
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 15, 2007 1597261904 978-1597261906 2nd
The Digital Age was expected to usher in an era of clean production, an alternative to smokestack industries and their pollutants. But as environmental journalist Elizabeth Grossman reveals in this penetrating analysis of high tech manufacture and disposal, digital may be sleek, but it's anything but clean. Deep within every electronic device lie toxic materials that make up the bits and bytes, a complex thicket of lead, mercury, cadmium, plastics, and a host of other often harmful ingredients.

High Tech Trash is a wake-up call to the importance of the e-waste issue and the health hazards involved. Americans alone own more than two billion pieces of high tech electronics and discard five to seven million tons each year. As a result, electronic waste already makes up more than two-thirds of the heavy metals and 40 percent of the lead found in our landfills. But the problem goes far beyond American shores, most tragically to the cities in China and India where shiploads of discarded electronics arrive daily. There, they are "recycled"-picked apart by hand, exposing thousands of workers and community residents to toxics.

As Grossman notes, "This is a story in which we all play a part, whether we know it or not. If you sit at a desk in an office, talk to friends on your cell phone, watch television, listen to music on headphones, are a child in Guangdong, or a native of the Arctic, you are part of this story."

The answers lie in changing how we design, manufacture, and dispose of high tech electronics. Europe has led the way in regulating materials used in electronic devices and in e-waste recycling. But in the United States many have yet to recognize the persistent human health and environmental effects of the toxics in high tech devices. If Silent Spring brought national attention to the dangers of DDT and other pesticides, High Tech Trash could do the same for a new generation of technology's products.


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Price for all three: $47.78

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Driven by built-in obsolescence and the desire of consumers for smaller, faster and sleeker hardware, millions of discarded plastic computer casings, lead-infused monitors, antiquated cellphones and even dead TV remote controls—the "effluent of the affluent"—are piling up annually in America's landfills, leaching dangerous toxins, including lead, mercury and arsenic, into the nation's water tables. Such cast-off "e-waste" is also being shipped to countries like India and China, where for pennies a day workers without masks or gloves boil circuit boards over primitive braziers to extract microchips (along with a slew of noxious elements), after which the silicon chips are bathed in open vats of acid to precipitate out micrograms of gold. In either instance, according to this alarming and angry study, the way in which America currently handles its cyber-age waste amounts to an ongoing but underreported environmental crisis. Grossman (Watershed: The Undamming of America) points to recycling regulations in Europe as models and demands that manufacturers of high-end technology assume more of the burden for safe disposal of discarded electronics. Her call for action is commendable and critical, but this book's often daunting jargon (pages are given over to a difficult discussion of different kinds of bromodiphenyl ethers and their varying impact on the environment) sometimes undercuts its passion. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Word is getting out about a metastasizing environmental and health threat: high-tech trash, or e-waste, our cast-aside computers and cell phones, devices dense with toxic substances. Environmental journalist Grossman takes readers on an eye-opening, even shocking tour of the cyber underground, clearly and methodically explicating the science, politics, and crimes involved in the mishandling of the ever-increasing tonnage of e-waste. Grossman tracks the entire electronics manufacturing process, from mining the heavy metals used in digital machines and gadgets to the serious yet underreported pollution generated by the production of silicon chips. Then there are alarming discoveries regarding the brominated flame retardants used in electronics, poisonous compounds now found in our food and our bodies, and the appalling conditions under which exploited laborers in China, India, and Nigeria break up and burn e-waste, absorbing deadly chemicals that are also released into rivers and the atmosphere. There is an urgent need for e-waste regulation, and Grossman's informative, harrowing, and invaluable report, as well as Giles Slade's Made to Break (2006) and Elizabeth Royte's Garbage Land (2005), are essential for informed public discourse and action. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Shearwater; 2nd edition (September 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597261904
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597261906
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #260,806 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An environmentalist with a sense of optimism January 1, 2007
Format:Hardcover
An eye opening account of just how much raw material it takes to make your favorite electronic gizmos and what can be done to reduce their environmental footprint. Normally books like this come off as scathing polemics; however, Grossman does an excellent job of explaining why things are the way they are, what recycling methods are working, and what can be done better. Perhaps the saddest fact of the entire book is just how recyclable modern electronic could be, and how little of them is actually recycled.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
I recommend this book to anyone interested in an objective, complete account of the electronic circle: raw materials, manufacturing, and waste. Elizabeth Grossman follows the trail from the mining and semiconductor companies to the third world countries where our discarded laptops and iPods end up. Although the title and first chapter have a grim tone, the book does offer a lot of hope.

High Tech Trash makes a good companion piece to Elizabeth Royte's book,Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash. Royte takes a much more personal approach to waste, writing very vivid descriptions of personalities and environments she encounters along the way. Grossman's work is more scientific and removed from the personal, attempting to fill every cranny with statistics and quotes. Although they are not exactly the same book, both cover common ground with differing styles that result in a complete picture of the US waste stream.

This makes High Tech Trash relevant to those who want to purely conduct research. I not only found out the exact chemical makeup of most motherboards but also their effects on the environment and human health. The author does a good job keeping her own personal feelings on a leash - a hard task to do when you swim through these kind of waters. Unlike the corporate demonizing that takes place in Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, High Tech Trash explores everyone's failures (governmental, social, corporate) to an exhaustive degree. This is the kind of book that will give you plenty to think about, a lot of anger over our current e-waste situation, but also plenty of ways to use that energy to improve our system and make things better.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my top ten (new list) for saving the planet July 28, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Fairly quickly into this book I was comparing it to Silent Spring and to Pandora's Poison: Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy.

This is a brilliant elegant work. If you agree with its premises it is a fast read, ending with an appendix on how to recycle electronic waste, and a truly superb bibliography. This is a serious book, a PhD level accomplishment, and totally objective and meritorious.

I am particularly impressed that Apple accepts its computer back for recycling in Japan, something we need to demand here. Indeed, if Apple and CISCO (for its routers and hubs) were to commit to total recycling, what is called for in Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming and described in more detail in Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things I for one would immediately switch my business and my office to iPhone, MacIntoch, and Open Office from Sun (on verge of being fully implementable within Apple's operating system).

Other books on my top ten:
... Read more ›
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