Mandatory reading for anyone giving or expecting high-tech gifts this holiday season. Hot on the tails of Annie Leonard’s The Story of Electronics video, Portland reporter Elizabeth Grossman and Demos have a new report out looking at the state of the e-waste problem in the US (33 page PDF).

Not only does Grossman take a good look at the current e-waste problem, she also explores potential solutions. I’m particularly drawn toward mandatory take-back programs for manufacturers.

Requiring manufacturers to take back their own products would give the industry some impetus to close the current externality in the system (that is, the broader community pays the cost of clean up either directly, through public recycling programs, or indirectly, via the environmental and human health impacts of inappropriate disposal). The way I see it, this could take several steps toward easing the problem:

  • Mitigate the problem of “planned obsolescence” (the problem in which products are designed with short lives to accommodate for the rapid pace of technological change) by encouraging companies to figure out what segments on the market would favor devices with longer lives, or to think harder about how to make devices upgradeable or repairable;
  • Encourage manufacturers to use designs and materials that lend themselves to reuse and recycling;
  • And ensure recycling processes safely handle toxic materials (currently, a lot of our e-waste is shipped off to unregulated facilities in Asia, exposing workers to toxic fumes and harmful materials).

If you’ve got some time, go read the whole thing.