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    The Compost: Here’s how to reduce your e-waste footprint
    • June 28, 2023

    Welcome to The Compost, a weekly newsletter on key environmental news impacting Southern California. Subscribe now to get it in your inbox! In today’s edition…

    It’s hard not to get sucked in by the latest and greatest gadgets.

    Sometimes they promise convenience, like a smart refrigerator that will tell you when you’re running low on milk. Others promise to enhance our health and safety, like a watch that can monitor your heartbeat or a cell phone with emergency satellite communication. Often it’s just about pleasure, such as getting a smoother gaming experience by buying the latest version of your laptop.

    But no matter what’s driving our purchases, one thing is clear: Our pricey addiction to electronics is, quite literally, piling up.

    Humans generate more than 50 million tons of e-waste each year, according to the latest report on the topic from the United Nations. And while the volume of e-waste has skyrocketed in recent years, the percentage that gets recycled has actually dropped, down now to just 17%.

    My colleague Teri Sforza and I wrote about how Chromebooks in schools have become the poster child for this technology treadmill. A coalition of environmental and education advocates led by the nonprofit Public Interest Research Group, or PING, have joined forces on a campaign to slow that Chromebook churn. Their immediate focus is on getting Google to extend what they say are rather arbitrary “death dates,” when the company stops making needed software updates. The California chapter of PING also is backing legislation now in the California Assembly that would force electronics companies to make it easier for people and shops to repair devices.

    Both of these efforts could have much broader impacts on how we all interact with technology. If companies are forced — through public pressure or, more likely, legislation — to make their products last longer, we’ll all have less excuse to treat these devices as disposable.

    Along with supporting such efforts, here are other steps to help reduce your e-waste footprint:

    Use devices you have as long as you can. Most of the environmental damage happens in making and shipping the products, so buying less typically is better than buying a newer version even if it’s more sustainably made.
    If your device breaks, try to find a local repair cafe in your area or use a resource like iFixit to fix it yourself. Check with the manufacturer, too, and voice your support for increasing repair options and resources.
    If your device works and you just don’t need it anymore, consider donating it to a charity, selling it to a third-party service or repurposing it for another use. An old cell phone, for example, might still be helpful for taking photos or playing music, so you’re not using memory or battery life on your main phone.
    If your device can’t be fixed or repurposed, see if it can be recycled. CalRecycle has a search tool that lets you find organizations nearby that recover unwanted devices.
    When you need a different device, consider buying a used or refurbished version. They can save you big money and often have lots of life left in them, with many sellers offering at least limited warranties.

    This all will help the planet. But it will help our bank accounts, too. A study by PING estimates the average family could save $400 a year if they could repair rather than replace common electronics and appliances. And taxpayer-funded schools and other agencies would save millions if devices lasted longer.

    Oakland Unified School District hosts a summer repair internship program, teaching students how to make basic repairs to devices. In PING’s report, it notes the district had to throw out 4,156 “expired” laptops last summer that were otherwise in fine working condition.

    “There was so much unneeded waste,” said Rio Blackshaw-Mckee, a senior at Skyline High School in Oakland who participated in the internship. “It felt terrible seeing all those trashed Chromebooks, knowing that the money could have gone to clubs, field trips or learning resources.”

    — By Brooke Staggs, environment reporter


    Not giving up: Irvine passed a ban on gas hookups in most new buildings just before a federal judge ruled against the same sort of ban in Berkeley. Our Yusra Farzan looked at how Irvine hopes to get around that ruling and still pursue its electrification goals. …READ MORE…

    Speaking of Irvine: The city set a goal to hit zero carbon emissions by 2030, which is 15 years faster than the state’s goal. City staff is presenting a five-part plan to help the Orange County city get there during a special meeting this afternoon.

    Solar farms vs. our deserts: Is rooftop solar enough to power our fossil-free future? Or can big farms coexist with animals and plants in places like the Mojave Desert? And if not, “should Americans be willing to sacrifice a few endangered species in the name of tackling climate change?” Sammy Roth with the Los Angeles Times tackles the tough questions in his latest piece on repowering the West. …READ MORE…


    Win for local water projects: Santa Ana just received $5.9 million in state funding to boost the local water supply and improve quality, our Destiny Torres reports. Newly captured groundwater will also help the city turn part of the Santa Ana Zoo parking lot into an urban green space. …READ MORE…


    For the bees and the planet: New rules will help protect bees from a common pesticide used on farms. But there are no regulations on using the insecticide on lawns or gardens, despite research now linking neonics to broader ecosystem problems and health conditions in humans. There also are no regulations on planting seeds pretreated with pesticides. Two bills take aim at these gaps, which advocates say are risky to pollinators, waterways and people. Agriculture groups are pushing back, saying they need these tools. Here’s my look at the background, bills and arguments on both sides. …READ MORE…

    Pushing a bigger monument: Local and national leaders converged Monday on Eaton Canyon Nature Center in Pasadena to urge President Joe Biden to expand the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument an additional 109,000 acres to the west. Our John Orona has the story. …READ MORE…

    Lab-grown meat approved: Would you eat lab-grown meat for the sake of the planet and/or animal welfare? Two California companies are banking on it, and federal regulators just gave them the green light. …READ MORE…

    Greenhouse gas inventory: California legislators are trying to create a uniform inventory of greenhouse gases, which cities and counties could use to develop climate plans. Our Kaitlyn Schalhorn reports in her Sacramento Snapshot roundup that Senate Bill 511 would require electrical and natural gas usage broken down by residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural sectors. …READ MORE…


    Rivian embraces Tesla charging: Shares of Irvine-based Rivian rose after news the company will incorporate Tesla Inc.’s electric-vehicle charging ports into future automobiles and gain access to its supercharger network, Ed Ludlow with Bloomberg reports. …READ MORE…

    Get a roundup of the best climate and environment news delivered to your inbox each week by signing up for The Compost.


    Marine life hit by algae bloom: A toxic algae bloom that’s crept down the coast of California from San Luis Obispo County has been sickening and killing hundreds of sea lions and dolphins, our Erika Ritchie reports. One expert said in her 25 years that she’s “never seen anything like it.” …READ MORE…

    Sea lion attack: Experts believed the algae could be responsible for reports of a sea lion attacking beachgoers in Dana Point, triggering beach closures this afternoon.

    Wildlife district stirs debate: Depending who you ask, our Clara Harter reports an ordinance that just cleared a major hurdle in Los Angeles City Hall would either be a boon to the environment and wildlife, or a curse on some local homeowners and developers. The law would limit how much of a homeowner’s property can be covered in structures and require the use of animal-friendly architecture for new development in hillside communities between Griffith Park and the 405 Freeway. …READ MORE…

    High school hit with shrapnel: Atlas Iron & Metal Co. is charged with contaminating the soil and groundwater, producing toxic fumes and spewing shrapnel onto the campus at Jordan High in Watts during dangerous explosions. Clara Harter is back with news on charges from the District Attorney. …READ MORE…

    Sand arrives: The first of an estimated 3,000 truckloads of dredged sand has been delivered to Capistrano Beach Park and Doheny State Beach in Dana Point, our Laylan Connelly reports. It’s part of a much-needed infusion of sand that will widen the severely eroded and battered beaches. …READ MORE…

    Lakes see algae, too: Lake Elsinore and Big Bear Lake once again have warnings in place for toxic algae blooms, though Monserrat Solis reports they’re so far not nearly as severe as blooms that happened last summer. …READ MORE…


    Creative uses for an invasive plant: There’s a meme going around hiking circles about how every group has one friend who points out that the pretty yellow flowers everyone has been admiring on Southern California hillsides in recent months are actually harmful invasive mustard. That friend is me. So I particularly enjoyed this story by the Associated Press’ Julie Watson about artists and chefs finding creative ways to use the destructive blossom.  …READ MORE…

    A $3 million state grant will help expand the Mojave Desert Land Trust’s seed bank in Joshua Tree. (Photo by Terry Pierson, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)


    Visit a seed bank: If you’ve been to Joshua Tree, you might have driven past this funky sign along the main drag. MDLT is for Mojave Desert Land Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and restoring desert land across Southern California. I recently got to spend time at their headquarters for an article I wrote on the organization’s seed bank, where they aim to collect and store seeds representing all 2,400 species of plants native to our deserts. You can stop by the site to purchase native seeds and merchandise to support the nonprofit. You can also tour their demonstration garden, with lots in bloom right now. And they have a very popular native plant sale each October, where the line starts early in the morning to buy plants that preserve local genetics and are well adapted to our climate. Check it out next time you visit Joshua Tree!


    Welcome bees: For this week’s tip on how Southern Californians can help the environment… The story I wrote on how insecticides impact bee populations got me looking at more tips for protecting these mighty pollinators. Here are five steps we all can take:

    Limit or halt use of chemical insecticides on lawns and gardens.
    Plant a year-round bee garden, with an emphasis on native flowers, shrubs and trees.
    Leave some bare patches of sunny dirt, which bees can use to nest.
    Don’t over manicure. Bees use hollow plant stems and leaf piles as habitat and rest in longer grass.
    Support local beekeepers by buying honey at your farmer’s market or other supplier.

    Thanks for reading, Composters! Don’t forget to sign up to get The Compost delivered to your inbox and to share this newsletter with others.

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    ​ Orange County Register