E-cycling for Environmental Justice
Warm Up: Introducing Environmental Justice
1. Start by introducing your class to the idea of environmental justice. Environmental justice mandates that every person has the basic right to live in a clean and safe environment. The Environmental Protection Agency’s definition of environmental justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
2. Environmental injustice occurs when communities are unfairly exposed to unhealthy toxins and pollution. Usually this occurs in poor communities where they do not have the resources to fight against it, and where land value is low. An example is a community that is located near a coal plant, landfill, or manufacturing plant.
3. Can your students think of any environmental justice issues in your community? These are especially common in low-income urban or rural areas. Think about sources of pollution, waste and degradation – is your area disproportionately affected by these? If not, where do you think these sources are? Discuss the reasons for this disparity.
Activity One: The Life Cycle of an Electronic Device
1. Before class begins, write each of the following words on a separate piece of paper: lead, mercury, greenhouse gases, water pollution, noxious gases, and cancer.
2. Split the class into two groups. One group will represent citizens in Guiyu, China and the other will be citizens of your hometown in the United States.
3. Hold up your sample electronic device and say that it represents all forms of electronics. Ask students where they think most of our electronics are built, in China or in the United States? (Most manufacturing is in China, so the electronic device should be passed to the China group).
4. Ask students to think of any environmental or health consequences that come from the manufacturing industry. Take the sign that says “greenhouse gases” and give it to the students in the China group, as they will be the ones most harmed by them.
5. Talk about where the electronic device goes once it is bought (sent over to the United States). Give it to the United States group.
6. Explain that the students in the U.S. group have tired of their electronic device, and they want to get rid of it, so they take it to an electronic recycling program so that it will not sit in a local landfill and pollute the air, ground and water. Although it may seem like the United States citizen is doing the correct thing, a large majority of e-cycled waste is shipped over to China to be disassembled for its valuable parts.
7. Give the electronic device back to China. Explain that in Guiyu, citizens earn a living by taking apart electronic devices, exposing themselves to toxic chemicals in the process, and degrading their environment. However, it is the only way that they can make a living, and so they must do it.
8. Take the cards labeled lead, mercury, noxious gases, and water pollution to the China group. These all result from taking apart and burning electronic parts, so consequently citizens are exposed to toxic chemicals and do not have access to clean water.
9. Finally, hand the card labeled “cancer” to the students in the China group, as all of these toxic chemicals are carcinogens and can eventually cause cancer.
10. Have students take notice of how China received all of the pollution while the United States enjoyed the use of the electronic device.
11. Discuss how this example is a case of environmental injustice. (The citizens of Guiyu live in a poor community and do not have the resources to fight against the pollution that they are experiencing. In fact, one of the few ways that they can make a living is through e-cycling, even if it is harmful to their health. Although these electronics are being used half a world away in the U.S., the U.S. citizens are not the ones who have to deal with the consequences of their disposal.)
Activity Two: A First-hand Look at Environmental Injustice in Guiyu, China
1. Have students watch all or part of the video “E-Waste Dumping Ground” at http://www.cbc.ca/national/blog/video/environmentscience/ewaste_dumping_... (Note: It may be easier for students to watch individually on a computer than as a group, as the video is small and cannot be enlarged. Additionally, it is about 18 minutes long, so you may want to preview the video and select certain segments or screenshots to focus on.)
2. Discuss the video with students. Ask questions such as:
a) What amazed you the most about the video?
b) Why do you think that China receives our waste? (A large profit can be made out of the parts in electronic devices.)
c) Why do you think the people in the video participate in recycling electronics even though they know it is unsafe and illegal? (It is a better form of living then farming is, which is their traditional form of employment. It guarantees them a job and a steady income.)
d) What examples of environmental injustice did you notice in the video? (Polluted water, exposure to toxic chemicals, air pollution, increased health problems, visual pollution, etc.)
e) Do you think it is fair that China receives our waste and the pollution that results from it?
f) What are some ways that you can help the problem? (Buy less and use products longer, donate items, investigate e-cycling companies before you use them, write to your legislator to demand regulation on e-cycling).
g) Are there any other reactions/questions anybody wants to share?
Activity Three: Creating Solutions: Writing a Bill Proposal
1. Discuss the idea of Federalism with students, explaining how state governments have their own rights separate of the federal government, and this means that the right to govern citizens is shared between the two bodies. Focus on the idea that States can be a testing ground for policies before the Federal Government decides to enact them.
2. Explain that many individual states have varying legislation and regulation on e-cycling; however there is not any federal regulation or legislation on the topic. By looking at the ways in which states have addressed the issue, the federal government can use these examples to create legislation of their own.
3. Pass out Reproducible #1- Regulating E-Cycling to students. Have them complete the assignment either during class or at home.
Wrap Up: Discussing Legislation
1. Have students share the legislation they wrote with other students. This could be in small groups or as an entire class. Have them compare what they wrote with others. Have them discuss the following:
a) What did you include in your bill and why do you think it will create a solution to the e-cycling problem?
b) What state legislation influenced your decision? Why did you think this was the best example?
c) Do you think this will help solve the environmental injustice problem in China? If so, how?
d) Do you have any other ideas for solutions to the problem?
Extension: Investigating E-cycling
Have students investigate e-cycling in their local area and state. Do they have legislation for regulating it? Look into companies that claim to be e-cycling - where do they send the products once they drop them off? If you find an e-cycling company nearby that recycles electronics in an ethical manner, arrange an e-cycling drive at your school. Otherwise, try organizing a donation drive and give the old electronics that are donated to a charity that can redistribute them to those who need them.