Annie Leonard Tells the Story of Electronics

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The Story of Stuff Project released its newest video, “The Story of Electronics” today. Hosted by Annie Leonard and co-produced by the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, the 8-minute animated movie is a journey through the fast-paced birth, life and death of an electronic.

In an effort to promote the manufacturing of safer, recyclable electronics, Leonard uses her signature butcher paper and stick figures to break down the complicated subject of e-waste in a step-by-step depiction of a gadget’s story – from its material sourcing, to manufacturing, to disposal.

“The film really is designed so that anyone can grasp and be entertained by it,” says Sheila Davis, executive director of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. “We live in a society where it’s really hard to keep people’s attention, so to give an explanation of the lifecycle of a product in just 8 minutes is phenomenal.”

Davis, who worked with Leonard to bounce around ideas and serve as a test audience for the film, says the e-waste industry faces two major problems: exportation to developing countries and the manufacturing of electronics with toxic, hard-to-recycle materials.

“The U.S. is one of the few countries that hasn’t signed an international treaty to ban the export of our electronic waste, which creates a huge problem of illegally dumping our e-waste overseas […] It will take generations to clean it up,” says Davis.

While major electronics manufacturers offer take-back programs for electronics, the recycling rate remains low. In fact, last month’s Gadget Census Report revealed that out of 7,500 people surveyed, more than 60 percent do not recycle their used electronics, a staggering stat that the report says is a result of a general lack of consumer interest.

As a Web celeb in her own right, Leonard’s newest installation is perhaps one way to generate buzz about the importance of e-cycling and the repercussions of leaving that CRT television on the curb.

“We live in a global society, and all of the materials in electronics come from all over – the plastics are sourced from one place, the circuit board from another, the assembly is done somewhere else, and it’s finally sold in the U.S.,” says Davis. “It’s a real global process, and the animation does a good job putting that into simple terms.”

Currently, lawmakers are working to advance e-waste legislation in the U.S. In late September, Representatives Gene Green and Mike Thompson introduced the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2010, an effort to stop U.S. “recyclers” from dumping electronic waste in developing countries.

But in the end, it all comes down to the proper disposal of electronics on the consumer end, and creating those necessary, easy-to-understand programs is a task that manufacturers are taking seriously.

For Davis, it’s simple. “If recycling an electronic is as easy as purchasing an electronic, then recycling will go up.”

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