July 25, 2013

Congress works to keep your dangerous, broken, purposefully obsolete ereader on American soil


Hands off, international trash pickers, this toxic little gold mine is all ours.

Good news, patriots!

Remember when you bought that ereader a couple years back, in part because you like books, in part because having a thousand volumes in your hand makes you feel like some kind of literary McGuyver, but mostly because as an American it is your duty to buy, then forget about, then toss, all the latest gadgetry? As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Early to bed, early to rise, hey look at this great deal on a flatscreen, we don’t have one in the crapper yet, we should get it.”

Well it’s a good thing you thoughtfully saved that first generation Nook over there beside your Zune and your Sega Game Gear! Legislation is going before congress now to ensure that instead of your old ereaders being sent abroad to be picked apart for their Rare Earth poisons by underpaid manual laborers in developing countries, they’ll be dissected and disposed of by underpaid manual laborers right here in the U.S. of A.

On BoingBoing Xeni Jardin points us to a release by U.S. Representatives Mike Thompson and Gene Green (cool name for co-sponsoring ecologically concerned legislation, or coolest name for co-sponsoring ecologically concerned legislation?) who have worked together to draft a bill to curb the export of certain types of “e-waste.”

H.R. 2791, “The Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2013,” is meant to increase environmental responsibility for our copious e-waste by limiting its export to developing nations that may have more lax standards, if you can imagine such a thing, for recycling some of the hazardous materials in e-waste. It might also, conveniently, mean more business for waste recyclers here in the states. Somewhere a bald eagle wrapped in wires and foaming with battery acid is giving these guys a thumbs up.

Specifically, old devices that contain what the EPA classes as hazardous materials would be banned from export entirely. But of course, e-waste that is tested and functional will still be fine for export. Other nations can have our working Nooks and Kobos, but the mountains upon mountains of broken Kindles (literally—e-waste weighs in at millions of tons a year in this nation), those are all ours, baby! And just wait until the wave of no-longer-serviced Nooks crashes down on us next year. If George Washington were around today his dentures would be made of splintery, faded e-ink screen and he, like all the rest of us, would be spending the next few decades picking his way through mounds of plastic-bezeled displays, tearing copper and lithium out of that PaperWhite your step-father never used.

This is no small issue. Even with the less stringent federal laws already on the books, a recycling company in Colorado was just this week fined $4.5 million and its CEO sentenced to 30 months in prison for illegally shipping waste to China.

The bill alredy has sponsors on both sides of the aisle, and is the rare legislation that may be friendly to the environmental and business lobbies.

There’s no news of an accompanying bill to legislate how paper books are disposed of, in part because what is a paper book, this is the future, get with it, and in part because, if my meticulous testing is to be trusted, they break down pretty easily. Again, to quote Benjamin Franklin, “I got electrocuted by a damn kite and now you want to read a book on paper? Get out of my country, Commie.”


Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.