Responsible disposal of e-waste in schools

Sunday, September 19th, 2010 | technology | Comments Off

Thousands of computers are pumped into schools for e-learning purposes.


But what happens at the end of the useful life of these devices?

Discarded monitors and keyboards contain lead, mercury, and other toxic materials that could harm people and contaminate soil and water.  If we are serious about the environment we will dispose of these items in a responsible way.

Many countries have strict policies governing e-waste disposal.  Sadly, no such standards exist in South Africa.  And while we are waiting for the government to wake up and provide legislation, old equipment is merrily dumped, adding to a polluted environment.  What a bad example we are setting for our learners … paying lip-service to keeping the planet green, but soiling it with toxic materials!

In the absence of e-waste policies and standards, education authorities and the computer industry share a responsibility to inform principals and teachers about appropriate methods to get rid of old electronic equipment.


Throwing away usable computers is violence against humanity

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009 | Sustainability | 20 Comments

Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson told this story about his grandfather:

One day when he was coming back from school, the boy threw away a pencil stub that had almost been used up and asked his grandfather for a new one.  Instead of giving him one, Gandhi asked him searching questions.  He wanted to know how the pencil became small, where he threw it away and finally – to his utter disbelief – gave him a flashlight and asked him to go out and look for it in the dark.  After two hours the pencil stub was found and the Mahatma was satisfied.  His point to his grandson – the moral of the story – was that throwing away natural resources is tantamount to violence against nature and over-consuming resources when there are so many deprived people in the world constitutes violence against humanity.

This story made me think about the way some technical support folks insist on replacing computers in schools when they are a few years old, but still having some useful life in them.  It may take some effort to maintain them, but while they are still usable we should do so.  Throwing them away – in the words of Gandhi – is tantamount to violence against nature.  Why should we consider replacing computers in a school laboratory with new ones, while there are many children who still do not have access?

And think about e-waste.  When you throw a computer away you pollute the environment.  I wonder what Gandhi would have said about that!

Technicians: don’t insist on replacing computers just because it is no longer comfortable for you to maintain them.  Remember the pencil stub, ponder the violence against humanity and think about the deprived children.  Rather empower school staff to assist with the maintenance of their equipment than simply recommending replacement of it.

Strive to stretch the life of scarce technology resources to their limit.

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