Conscious Consumerism for the Unconscious Shopper – Navigating the technological world ethically and informed

James Cantu

September 20th, 2017

Pictured is the soon to be replaced iPhone 7,  which was released in September of 2016. – Photo provided by CNET and Tribune News Service 

With the impending release of the new iPhone 8 and iPhone X, and with already 78 million iPhones sold last business quarter, the question of consumerism and ethics– “How much is too much?” “What are the repercussions of my purchase?” and hopefully, “How can I shop ethically?” are brought up.

Although it may not be possible to buy everything ethically, it is still good to be informed about the impact of your purchases.

Apple is no stranger to criticism regarding both how their product is manufactured and the amount of waste older models of their products produce in landfills.

In fact, Apple’s two largest suppliers, Pegatron and Foxconn, have been under review by China Labor Watch since 2013 and found, “In 2015, workers’’ hourly wage was $1.85 USD. In 2016, worker’s hourly wage increased to $2.00 USD. After deductions, this amounts to only $1.60 USD.”

With a base wage below the cost of living, their workers must rely on excessive overtime to support themselves.

Meanwhile, 70 percent of the tin used to make electronics is outsourced in dangerous, small-scale mines in Indonesia where few protective labor laws exist.

Although Apple worked to reduce their carbon footprint, its overall greenhouse gas emissions rose from 33.8 million metric tons in 2013 to 34.2 million metric tons in 2014, despite environmental sustainability measures.

The increase can be attributed to selling a large number of products, causing them to overcome the sustainability measures.

Luckily for the environment and Apple’s workers, Apple has been working towards becoming more ethically conscious.

Approximately 80 percent of paper products used in  Apple’s iPhone, iPad, iPod, Mac and Apple TV came from sustainable sources. Apple’s goal is to source 100 percent of their paper based products from those kinds of sources.

Although Apple is working to minimize both human and environmental exploitation, while setting the standard for other companies, consumption ultimately results in waste.

With the world becoming more digitized and access to electronics becoming more democratized, the desire for the new, top-of-the-line product results in adverse affects for the environment.

The creation of the “next-best-thing” depletes natural resources and, as the new replaces the old, large amounts of electronic waste are left behind.

In theory, the electronic waste could be reused or recycled, but not every country has regulations regarding the systematics of electronic disposal.

The United States does have electronic waste regulations, but in 2012, only 29 percent of electronic waste was recycled. The rest was disposed of in landfills where it pollutes the air, soil, and water as toxins from the tech degrade into its surroundings.

The blame for human and environmental exploitation does not fall on one party alone. The companies rely on the consumers for profit, and, therefore, create few options to maintain older electronics.

Although companies push to increase profits, according to Nielsen Global Online Study,  Millennials prioritize sustainable and ethically made products and are willing to pay more for them.

Companies who have made the push to become more sustainable, and broadcast that fact, are more successful since “being green” is now marketable.

Despite the best efforts for a company to be environmentally and ethically friendly, currently there is no comprehensive system in place that doesn’t exploit the environment or other human beings in the production of technology.

Although we live in a consumerist society that relies on some form of electronics in almost every facet of life, one way to lessen the negative impacts of consumption is not only to reduce, reuse, and recycle, but to educate others about the impact of their consumption.

It is with hope that a more educated and ethically conscious society would make decisions benefiting the welfare of those exploited.

So, maybe hold onto the older model of the iPhone, and take special care in its recycle when you do inevitably upgrade to the newer model.

James Cantu

Opinion Editor

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