E-Waste Crusader

So, as it turns out the Consumer Electronics Show got the best of us, in some ways. The producer on the shoot got a wicked case of the flu, I caught a minor stomach bug going around and basically we hobbled out of Las Vegas with some story ideas for the future. Overall, a decent show this year, but definitely somewhat subdued compared to previous gatherings. Hard to tell if it was a result of being overshadowed by the New Hampshire primary, our collective illnesses, or a cooling in the gadget world. Food for thought. In any case, we move onto tonight's piece on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric that highlights a growing problem in the technology marketplace -- what to do with all the (literally) tons of discarded electronics?

James Burgett, a former drug addict and homeless person, is taking the challenge head on. His motto is: obsolescence is just a lack of imagination. Burgett runs a non-profit re-use operation outside San Francisco. While he's in favor of better recycling options for electronics -- and feels more companies need to alter harmful manufacturing methods -- he is primarily an outspoken proponent of re-use. He and his team, many of who are convicted felons or former drug addicts, take thousands of pounds of computers, fax machines, printers, PDAs, game consoles, etc. every month and re-furbish them before donating them to schools or charities.

When Burgett was strung out on drugs or alcohol many years ago, he would dig in dumpsters or find machines that needed fixing. At the time, he'd use the money he generated to support his addictive habits. But eventually he turned his life around (he's been sober for more than a dozen years) and decided to use his new-found abilities to benefit the environment and others. In addition to giving devices a second chance, he does the same with his employees, who might otherwise be struggling to find a stable path through life. He says anybody -- yes, anybody -- can learn to repair, upgrade or even build their own computer. But too many times they are simply discarded -- along with other gadgets -- for the latest and greatest. The shelf life or home life of so many products is getting shorter and shorter while mass production ramps up. Burgett says he's trying to stop that cycle and minimize the impact on landfills and elsewhere.

Overall e-waste or electronic waste is a serious issue within the tech industry that doesn't receive a lot of attention. The problem has plenty of contributors but few true crusaders. James Burgett is one. I hope you'll check out his story tonight on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric. It might make you re-consider in the future what you do with your aging electronics.