Downstream/Upstream – We Are All Connected.

July 13, 2010

We all may not live near each other, but every single human (and animal, really) on this planet is connected to one another more closely than you may imagine. It’s very easy to pigeonhole ourselves into being only from our house, our neighborhood, our town, or even our state – but we are all citizens of the same giant blue globe floating through space. And because of this, everything we do, make, buy, or dispose of has an impact on everyone else somewhere on the planet. Everything that happens upstream of you has an effect on your life, and everything you “release” from your life has an effect on all of those downstream from you. Just as an example, let’s take a general look at what happens when you buy a new computer…

Computers are made from plastic, glass, toxic chemicals, and natural earth elements. The materials are mined by workers in faraway lands making bare minimums while being exposed to high levels of toxicity. These materials are then assembled by more workers, also being paid barely anything, while working in what we may consider Superfund sites. Assembly of each computer uses thousands of gallons of water and leaves behind tons of waste materials that then have to be disposed of. The computers then have to be shipped across the ocean, sent out on 18 wheelers throughout the country, and delivered to homes and stores. Voila – your new computer has arrived. But now your old one has to go away…


Image from Greenpeace

A report released earlier this year by the UNEP’s Governing Council titled “Recycling — from E-Waste to Resources” says that “unless action is stepped up to properly collect and recycle materials, many developing countries face the spectre of hazardous e-waste mountains with serious consequences for the environment and public health.” Global e-waste generation is growing by about 40 million tons a year, and more than 3 million tonnes of e-waste is disposed of in the US alone each year. That’s a lot of toxic waste to get rid of each year. And if it is not properly disposed of (which in many places around the world it isn’t), the chemicals leach into the groundwater and aquifers, end up going downstream and potentially affecting millions of people. It’s an endless cycle of toxicity, especially for those in developing or Third World countries.

Now, I am not saying you shouldn’t buy a new computer when you need one – computers are a fact of life. We need them to do our jobs, stay in touch with family, and publish websites like this one here. But do we need a new one every year? There are many people who buy new cellphones every 6-12 months, even when theirs works fine. Rapid changes in technology and planned obsolescence feeds into this behavior, but it’s also up to us to do our due diligence and planning before running out and buying the newest version of something. Everything that happens upstream from us has an effect on us and everything we do has an effect on someone else downstream – do you really want everyone upstream from you acting in an unsustainable and irresponsible manner? Probably not… and neither do the people downstream from you.

You know that expression “Think Globally, Act Locally“? There really is some serious truth to it. We are all connected, whether we see the connection or not.

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Comments (3)

  1. nan fischer says:

    Good one! Always think before you shop, and buy second hand when possible. It really makes a difference! Thanks for the explanation and very cool graphic.

  2. Erin Ely says:

    I have my same Dell laptop and it’s 5 years old now… I’m still limping along with it. It’s still usable for what I need it for and I’ll probably use it until it dies.

    I try to do that with just about everything I have now…. but I’m not perfect by any means.

    Thanks for the reminder :)