He doggedly followed several gps tracking devices he had placed inside LCD tv’s before dropping them off to be recycled. The signals led him far flung places, including Hong Kong, Kenya & Pakistan, where tons of electronic waste lie scattered across acres of no man’s land. Behind the walls of the compounds, workers break apart monitors & printers to mine for copper, lead, gold and other elements. Tube bulbs shatter and spread toxic mercury vapor in their unprotected faces, ink toner cartridges spill their carcinogenic chemicals on bare skin…and back home, we are unaware that the thing we purchased and then disposed of, is becoming a burden someone else must bear.
This story has haunted me all week. It is the story of making money at any cost. The story of cheap, imported things made overseas where the true cost is disguised by sweatshops, slave labor and weak environmental laws, underpinned by zero corporate accountability. The story of US-based recycling companies, fighting to stay solvent by exporting the waste we trusted them to take care of stateside, because the commodity market prices of the metals & materials contained inside have plummeted, which means it is not financially feasible to pay the labor costs for extraction. It is the story that reveals why it is imperative we start looking at issues from a wider lens, so we can see how environmental disasters, job-related injustices, trade relations, racial violence and class warfare are all connected. The grief of it all is simply unbearable, the tragic gap an unspeakable distance.
But Wendell Berry says it better than I ever could…. ”It is the destruction of the world In our own lives that drives us half insane, and more than half. To destroy that which we were given in trust: how will we bear it? It is our own bodies that we give to be broken, our bodies existing before and after us in clod and cloud, worm and tree, that we, driving or driven, despise in our greed to live, our haste to die. To have lost, wantonly, the ancient forests, the vast grasslands in our madness, the presence in our very bodies of our grief.”