Blanca Callén Lancaster University,
Behind the images and narratives of progress, effectiveness and innovation of electronics that make us believe in dematerialized technology without consequences (Gabrys, 2011:57), there is something dirty and ‘forgettable’ (Hird, forthcoming). That is electronic waste (e-waste).
Over the past November and December, I followed a group of informal waste pickers in Barcelona to study how they re-materialize and re-purpose discarded computers. What I found is that e-waste is not merely about dirtiness and forgettable materials. It is also about innovative everyday practices that compete to establish and negotiate different ontologies of value and functionality as waste moves across different legal regimes.
A common European Directive, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE), currently regulates the Spanish system of e-waste management. As a legal tool, the WEEE defines a new scenario where agents are more interconnected with their (contaminating) activities and responsibilities. Institutionally, the circuit of e-waste management lies on the so-called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). This means that, at least theoretically, producers are responsible for the collection, treatment, evaluation, and, if applicable, elimination of waste related to their products. However, as Queiruga et al. (2012) argue, this is not what actually happens. In practice, fines and responsibilities are divorced, and the ‘polluter pays’ principle’s core is corrupted.