Like most kids, when I thought about growing up, I wanted to be an astronaut. But, given this frightening prospect of exiting the atmosphere, I think I’m perfectly happy remaining on Terra Firma. After less than a century of throttling things into the stratosphere, we’ve already created an environment resembling that of a teenager’s bedroom. Space junk, as it’s called, is actually becoming a major obstacle to getting more terrestrial hunks of mass into orbit.
But there may still be hope for my interstellar future: one of the most recent things that scientists hope to send into space is a satellite designed to clean up the mess we’ve made up there. The RemDeb (short for RemoveDebris) satellite is one team’s answer to cleaning up that area just north of our night sky.
Should John Glenn be the new “crying Indian?”
A few decades ago, when society was perhaps a little more influenced by campaigns aiming to help Keep America Beautiful, and I was still fantasizing about my spacewalk, there was an ad featuring a Native American touring the waters and land of this country peppered with fast-food wrappers, garbage bags, and soda cans. At the pinnacle moment of the ad, the camera zooms in to capture a single tear falling down the weathered cheek of Iron Eyes Cody.
When struck with this article about the amount of terrestrial refuse we’ve scattered about the stratosphere, our owner Jill Vaské immediately recalled this image of a tearful native. Only, what she saw was the face of John Glenn; a sojourner who first crested the frontier of space when it was pristine and clean, now looking across the wasteland that our race for progress has made of it.
This is a sobering thought to be sure, but one not quite as melodramatic as you might think. Space, as it turns out in this scenario, serves as a perfect metaphor for the earth. Like the space immediately surrounding it, the earth was also recently clean, and in a short time, we’ve made it trashed and downright lethal. Too harsh? Consider those toxic wastelands of e-waste on the other side of the world. They were pristine farmlands and riverbanks not more than twenty years ago.
Why this hits us close to home
One primary philosophy of Sage is to keep pressure on the idea that consumers need to take responsibility for the devices they consume. It is central to our mission of prolonging the life of electronics; consumerism is out of control and there is no immediate consequence to living in a throw-away culture. Everywhere you turn, when it comes to technology, the costs of disposing or recycling IT Assets has been externalized—tossed on the backs of whomever happens to be downstream.
Some of this is inherent in how we as a civilization make progress. I mean, technology begets garbage, right? As we iterate and upgrade, waste is inevitable. But as we explored in a recent post, that waste does not have to be lost. It can be recycled back into the manufacturer’s source material and sustainability can be built into the design process. In fact, circular thinking, in the case of terrestrial waste at least, is the only way to reduce the impact that progress is making on our environment. Perhaps, if early space travelers had been 'circular', we wouldn't have the problem that’s preventing me from fulfilling my childhood dream of safe space travel.
The Interstellar trash program
The Holy Grail of this argument is for consumers to take full responsibility for the entire lifecycle costs associated with the goods they consume. It is a heavy environmental load for you to own that smartphone you just upgraded to. And the one you just replaced still has life left in it. In this example of space trash, more responsible management of end-of-life costs would have eliminated the majority of space junk impeding our path to the stars.
Taking responsibility for the waste we produce is a great first step toward handling the wanton consumption of our planet’s resources we seem to be geared toward. While we’re at it, we should create anti-littering laws in space to help keep people accountable for their waste. This isn’t science fiction anymore, and the current state of our bordering vacuum is already dangerous and potentially beyond hope.
Laws and regulations seem the most effective way of keeping society in line with the kind of thinking that is best for our eventual survival. But, change like this will ultimately only come through a shift in mindset. Starting to think about the lifecycle costs of your electronic devices is a great place to start because of how toxic the disposal of those devices can be. And we don’t have to reach orbital velocity to be able to make a difference.
To learn more about how Sage can help you do good with your IT Assets, check out our processes page. And for help in changing your mindset toward a sustainable future, subscribe to this blog. You can choose daily, weekly, or monthly goodness about everything from Technology to Philanthropy, all with a sustainable slant.