Understanding the emerging e-waste regime
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Recent work on the electronics recycling industry has drawn attention to the hazards associated with the export of used electronics, or e-wastes, from the U.S. to informal recycling sites in developing countries where hazardous recycling practices are often used. This dissertation seeks to understand how the geographic movement of e-waste becomes a subject of political concern and to evaluate the types of political interventions that have been developed in the U.S. to confront this growing ‘e-waste problem’. My empirical work investigates the development of labeling and certification schemes for electronics recyclers designed to embed some modicum of accountability into the used electronics supply chain. In addition, extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws seek to reduce the use of toxics in electronics production by requiring producers to take financial responsibility for the end-of-life management of their products. Thus, the politics of e-waste in the U.S. revolve around attempts to mitigate hazardous ‘downstream’ flows of discards while also working to make ‘upstream’ preventative changes in production. By examining the important roles that consumers, NGO’s, corporate actors, and governments play in these processes, my work speaks to the opportunities and limitations of contemporary forms of social and environmental governance. I utilized qualitative methods, including interviews, archival work, and participation in policy workshops through the United Nations University’s Solving the E-Waste Problem Initiative. My analysis of e-waste politics points to a broader critique of sustainability and of the ‘greening’ of capitalism more generally. Finally, this work contributes to the study of one of the more profound contradictions of the information age: although seemingly 'virtual', placeless, and predicated upon flows of information, the rise of digital technologies is grounded in particular places with particular socio-natural effects.