Realizing You’re Part of the Problem: E-Waste

I do a lot of reading online. This shouldn’t feel like a hard-won conclusion, and yet it is something I have only started to notice recently. I work at a book press, and yet more and more, the role paper plays in my life has diminished. When I was going to Danebo Elementary School in 2005, I came to class outfitted with clean paper notebooks, folders to fill with my paper assignments, and binders to hold it all together. Today I use my laptop to take notes, which I save to Google Drive along with all my other assignments, which I turn in to my professors via D2L (Portland State University’s online learning management system), where I find my assignments, schedule, and syllabus. The books I read for work and pleasure are almost always downloaded onto my phone either as EPUB files or as audiobooks. I carry almost no paper with me and feel righteous frustration when handed a paper syllabus.

I feel virtuous for saving paper, but this issue might not actually be as cut and dry as we think. According to Alison Moodie’s 2014 article for The Guardian, “Is Digital Really Greener than Paper?”, it’s more complicated than that: “More than 65 percent of paper in the US was recycled in 2012, making paper the nation’s most recyclable commodity. Over the past century, forest coverage in the northern part of the country, from Minnesota to Maine, has actually increased by 28 percent.” Turns out a big reason your bank has been pushing you to “Go Green, Go Paperless” is to reduce costs. This article claims there just weren’t any studies comparing the sustainability of digital and paper media. But while paper’s relative sustainability may surprise you, wait until you hear about e-waste.

Digital media certainly seems sustainable. It’s “reusable” and makes other materials obsolete (I haven’t had an alarm clock, a flashlight, or a calendar that wasn’t part of my phone in six years). Yet more and more, smartphones and other electronic devices are treated like disposable objects. The average American keeps their cell phone for only eighteen months before discarding it. Cultural and manufacturer practices support this. Companies end maintenance to operating systems that support older devices. Overseas factories make the cost of production relatively inexpensive, and lack of know-how makes repairs to older or even gently used devices expensive and inconvenient. My last phone died when I spilled water on it—once. I went to my service provider, and they immediately started the process to get me a new one. The only place they could send it for repairs was back to the manufacturer, but a refurbished phone is considered a piece of junk in a culture where the newest device is a status symbol.

This has a cost. Despite US regulations about proper e-waste recycling, 60 percent of e-waste ends up in landfills. These leach toxic materials into the environment. Of the materials that are recycled, 30 percent are still unusable and end up getting thrown away.

Since I grew up during a time when the internet, social media, and personal devices were becoming a part of everyday life, the materiality of these things has been invisible to me. I only recently thought to wonder if the internet was the result of more than just magic (spoiler: it is). It took my sixth phone and second laptop for me to see my personal devices as material objects and to wonder where they went when I was done with them.

This is a much more complicated issue than what I have presented here, and I encourage you to do your own research. On an economic and cultural scale, we need to change how we interact with electronics before we can label them sustainable. Read more about those here. On a personal and local level, there are things you can do! Do your research about where to recycle old devices locally. Green Century Recycling is a good option in Portland. When your device breaks or sustains minor damage, try taking it to your local electronics repair shop. Or maybe try iFixit.com to find user-made repair guides and challenge yourself with some DIY projects.

Right now iFixit is teaming up with the Repair Association to lobby for right-to-repair laws in the state of Oregon. Learn more about it here. Add your name and start fighting e-waste.

Elee Kraljii Gardiner Guest Poet Post: “Reading the City”

Every Thursday, Ooligan Press invites a poet whose work is included in Alive at the Center, our forthcoming anthology of poetry from Pacific Northwest writers, to blog for us. This week, we are pleased to feature Elee Kraljii Gardiner, a poet from Vancouver, B.C. Please enjoy her post!

Reading the City

I have been thinking about how I read the city. A plaque at Hastings and Hamilton Streets in Vancouver is dedicated to Lauchlan Alexander Hamilton, an employee of the Canadian Pacific Railway who drove his surveyor’s stake into the ground in 1885, “and commenced to measure an empty land into the streets of Vancouver.” This historicized narrative is for me a ridiculous dart: he was not standing on “empty” land. He was standing at a random coordinate amidst thousands of years of experience.
When I check the weather on my iPhone the data comes from “Musqueam Indian Reserve 2” rather than “Vancouver.” This coded reminder of where I am fascinates me because part of reading is thinking about what is not written. I’m aware of not knowing what the Musqueam people negotiated—or didn’t—concerning the weather station and its labeling. I don’t know what is meant by “2” or if there is a “Musqueam Indian Reserve 1” or “3” that might also hook into the weather app.
Weather Report Reservation
If the reader is complicit in determining a text, so too is she responsible regarding the city. How do my movements through Vancouver edit my reading of it? When I moved here from Boston, I used to drive to my boyfriend’s house a few times a week along the length of Hastings Street to Boundary Road where the city ends.
Hastings Street was my track, my route, a spinal line completely different from the curlicues and elbow corners of the streets where I grew up. It plunges through the Downtown Eastside (DTES), where it is lined with brick buildings rather than the modern green-tinted glass towers I abhor. I suppose by sticking to my route I was searching for the familiar, carving a groove. Rereading a line. Translating.
As I drove though the neighbourhood decoding and recoding what I saw as a passerby, I began to recognize macro and micro schedules of a community. I read signs. If I noticed a swell of activity on the streets I sometimes understood what could have caused it: the weather, a festival or shelter hours. I absorbed the transition from office towers to blocks of lower buildings giving way to row houses then detached houses, next houses with small yards — and then I reversed the narrative process of density on my trip back home to the West End.
The DTES is a neighbourhood under pressure from developments that don’t serve the majority of current residents. It’s an area that has been through waves of change: at the turn of the last century seasonal labour created cycles of boom-and-bust. In the 50s and 60s the DTES was a lively shopping district. After the closing of mental health facilities and the withdrawal of social support in the 70s and 80s, and the influx of cheaper and more potent street drugs, the neighbourhood became a low-barrier site for people handling mental health, addiction and poverty-related issues. Today it is many things, including an optimistic community that represents itself through political activism and arts initiatives.
I believe in Borges’ idea of an infinite number of readings of a text. For the last six years I have spent a few hours each week at the cross section of Main and Hastings Streets where Hamilton planted his first stake and where I write in longhand with a roomful of people. In our writing sessions it is as if we are slowing something down, trying to locate and elongate a moment amidst a rush of change outside.
In 1857’s Fleur de MalBaudelaire wrote of Paris, “The city changes shape faster than the human heart.” In Vancouver’s case we can witness the transformation in three minutes and thirty-five seconds. This video, filmed from a shaky bike handlebar, comes closest to one reading I hold. It’s impressionistic yet real-time, conducted from the margins of the south side sidewalk against the flow of traffic so that even the viewer familiar with the area is momentarily disoriented. The background music is a New Age panpipe composition referencing the mythic quest. And when the video concludes it does so with a fade to black, the bike and camera still in motion as if suggesting the trip, and the reading, are never finished.

Video Link

Click here to watch the video


 Elee Kraljii Gardiner directs Vancouver, British Columbia’s Thursdays Writing Collective, a nonprofit program in the Downtown Eastside. She is the editor of five chapbooks and the co-editor (alongside John Asfour) of V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, an anthology from Arsenal Pulp Press (2012). Elee is affiliated with Simon Fraser University, sitting on the Advisory Council of The Writer’s Studio and is the recipient of the 2011 Lina Chartrand Poetry Award.

Elee’s poem,“Stealing Anatomies,” is—in her words—a response, “to a poem written by a witness of the moments after the death of a young woman murdered by drug dealers at the Regent Hotel. His piece was brave and respectful and I was called to add my voice to his. I completed the poem at Hedgebrook Writers Retreat, a women-only space, and incorporated a list of a dozen book titles from the library shelves written by former guests of the retreat center. I feel the poem is stronger for its inclusion of underlying support from women in the literary community at large.”
This poem is featured in the complete Alive at the Center anthology as well as the Vancouver edition. Both books are currently available from your favorite local bookshop and online retailers.
*Ooligan Press typically uses American English spellings. However, because of the location-specific focus of Elee’s post, Canadian spellings have been used throughout.