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Vocabulary

Waste-Age

On a computer, it is easy to delete software and files by sending them to the recycling bin. Text messages, TV programs, music, and photographs can also simply be deleted. If they couldn't, our tech products would fill up and grind to a halt. However, the situation isn't quite so straightforward when it comes to getting rid of the hardware itself.

The rate of demand for technological invention has resulted in annual sales of technological consumer goods (TCGs) growing year after year. In 2008, for example, global sales of TCGs increased by 14 per cent to $694 billion. Some of this growth is due to new users buying TCGs in developing economies, but the vast majority is the result of users in developed economies replacing existing equipment. The resulting problem is disposal of the old equipment. In the United States, 80 per cent of TVs and 70 per cent of computers end up in landfills, and nearly 200 million old PCs are being kept in warehouse facilities. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, another 40 million PCs could join them in the next few years. Unfortunately, the challenge doesn't end there.

According to the United Nations Environmental Program, the sheer volume of discarded technological consumer goods also called "e-waste," could be as high as 50 million tons per year worldwide. Not only that, but e-waste contains toxins, such as lead, cadmium, and PVC. An increasing problem is that some e-waste is now being disposed of in countries not equipped to deal with it. It is estimated that California alone shipped about 10,000 tons of e-waste overseas in 2006, and 40 per cent of that was sent to developing countries such as Malaysia, India, Ghana, and Brazil. Ineffective waste disposal in these areas has led to higher levels of environmental pollution and dreadful medical conditions, such as cancer in adults and birth defects in babies.

However, there are several possible solutions to curb this growing tide of e-waste washing up on the shores of developing countries. First of all, there needs to be more consumer awareness and use of specialist recycling companies in developed economies. At present, only a token 20 per cent of e-waste is disposed of in this way.

A second solution could lie with greater global regulatory and legislative power. In the early 1990s, a campaign was mounted to stop trade in e-waste, and in 1995 an international ban on hazardous waste being shipped to developing countries was signed. The European Union has subsequently woven this agreement into its legal framework. Unfortunately, the United States has yet to sign up, and illegal trade in e-waste by companies wanting to bypass expensive waste treatment processes or earn much-needed foreign currency continues to grow.

An alternative to these solutions is to shift the burden from consumers and governments to manufacturers and retailers of high-tech goods. Since they are the ones profiting from technology sales, they should be part of the solution. For example, more companies now collect and recycle old technology and are looking at ways to make their equipment "greener." For example, equipment could be made with fewer harmful substances, making it easier and cheaper to recycle. It could also be made of more recycled components. Finally, green equipment could be designed to have a greater scope of possibilities in terms of updating, therefore minimizing the need for replacement.

Perhaps we are now turning the corner in e-waste management as stronger laws and penalties and growing corporate accountability are all starting to have an impact. However, without us actively seeking ways to rethink our development and use technology to protect the planet against further environmental damage, these measures will only make a small dent in an ever-growing pile of waste.


KeyWords
grind
to make something into small pieces or a powder by pressing between hard surfaces:
to grind coffee

invent
to design and/or create something which has never been made before:
The first safety razor was invented by company founder King C. Gillette in 1903.

disposal
when you get rid of something, especially by throwing it away:
waste disposal
the disposal of hazardous substances

warehouse
a large building for storing items before they are sold, used or sent out to shops, or a large shop selling a large number of a particular items at a cheap rate:
The goods have been sitting in a warehouse for months because a strike has prevented distribution.

sheer
to change direction suddenly:
I thought the boats were going to collide, but one sheered off/away at the last second.

toxin
a poisonous substance, especially one which is produced by bacteria and which causes disease

lead
a very dense, soft, dark-grey, poisonous metal, used especially in the past on roofs and for pipes and also for protection against radiation:
lead pipes

cadmium
a soft bluish white metallic element

disposed 
be disposed to do sth to be willing or likely to do something:
fter all the trouble she put me to, I didn't feel disposed to (= I did not want to) help her.

overseas
in, from or to other countries:
We need to open up overseas markets.
There are a lot of overseas students in Cambridge.
My brother is a student overseas.

dreadful
very bad, of very low quality, or shocking and very sad:
The food was bad and the service was dreadful.

cancer
a serious disease that is caused when cells in the body grow in a way that is uncontrolled and not normal, killing normal cells and often causing death:
He died of liver cancer.
cancer of the stomach
breast/bowel/lung cancer
cancer cells
a cancer patient
It was a secondary cancer.

curb
to control or limit something that is not desirable:
The Government should act to curb tax evasion.

tide
a noticeable change in a situation or increase in a particular type of behaviour:
We must look for ways of stemming (= stopping) the rising tide of protest.

shore
the land along the edge of a sea, lake or wide river:
You can walk for miles along the shore.

token
used to describe actions which although small or limited in their practical effect, have a symbolic importance:
The troops in front of us either surrendered or offered only token (= not much) resistance.
They were the only country to argue for even token recognition of the Baltic states' independence.

mount
to organize and begin an activity or event:
to mount an attack/campaign/challenge/protest
to mount an exhibition/display

hazardous
dangerous:
a hazardous journey/occupation

weave
to twist long objects together, or to make something by doing this:
We were shown how to roughly weave ferns and grass together to make a temporary shelter.
It takes great skill to weave a basket from/out of rushes.

bypass
to ignore a rule or official authority:
They bypassed the committee and went straight to senior management.

currency
the money that is used in a particular country at a particular time:
foreign currency

substance
material with particular physical characteristics:
an organic/chemical substance
What sort of substance could withstand those temperatures?

scope
the range of a subject covered by a book, programme, discussion, class, etc:
I'm afraid that problem is beyond/outside the scope of my lecture.
Oil painting does not come within the scope of a course of this kind.
We would now like to broaden/widen the scope of the enquiry and look at more general matters.

penalty
a punishment, or the usual punishment, for doing something that is against a law:
The law carries a penalty of up to three years in prison.
They asked for the maximum penalty for hoax calls to be increased to one year.
The protesters were told to clear the area around the building, on penalty of (= the punishment would be) arrest if they did not.

accountable
Someone who is accountable is completely responsible for what they do and must be able to give a satisfactory reason for it:
She is accountable only to the managing director.
The recent tax reforms have made government more accountable for its spending.

dent
a small hollow mark in the surface of something, caused by pressure or being hit:
a dent in the door of a car
VOCABULARY

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 Reference: Focus on Vocabulary
FoV 01 - C07U27 

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