E-waste: The Catastrophe Lurking in our Computers

LaptopThe electronics boom causes massive environmental and social damage. Drew Turney looks at the dark side of the device – and how slime might yet save the day.

Human technology has always been pretty destructive to the environment. Our mastery over fire was the first step to the climate chaos looming today, and the manufacturing of machinery since the advent of the industrial era has been characterised by dingy factories that poison us, plastics that end up in landfills forever, and harsh synthetic chemicals dribbling into rivers.

The personal electronics era of the PC and mobile phone has only accelerated such potential catastrophe. We’ve all seen pictures of the mountains of electronic waste in the Third World, with children picking through it to extract components they can sell.

A couple of years ago a compound known as coltan, used in most devices, became the focus point for concern because of the brutal exploitation of families and children who are forced to mine in it in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Coltan is the new blood diamond. .

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