Short Circuit: the Lifecycle of our Gadgets and the True Cost to Earth.

The Short Circuit report, released by The Gaia Foundation in April 2013, exposes the true social and ecological costs, and toxic legacy of gadgets such as smartphones and laptops. From the environmental destruction and contamination caused by extraction, exploitative working conditions during production, to the mountains of e-waste being shipped abroad, the report follows the birth, life and death of everyday gadgets and reveals their true cost to the planet and to future generations.

You can download the full report as a pdf here: SHORT CIRCUIT, read the Executive Summary or buy a hard copy through our online shop.

Short Circuit is the follow-up to our 2012 report, Opening Pandora's Box, which exposed the alarming scale and rate of growth of the extractive industries and the disastrous ecological impact that this is having across the world. Short Circuit turns our attention to a key driver of this growth - the surge in consumerism and growth of a throw-away culture, fuelled by marketing and delusions of necessity, and supported by the obsolescence built into our electronic gadgets.

We thank Michael Mansfield QC, Dame Vivienne Westwood, Charles Eisenstein, Jim Puckett, Nic Marks, Gathuru Mburu and Julian Kirby for their support. Read their endorsements here!

The Lifecycle of our Electronic Gadgets

Birth: What are the different components that make these items, in particular which metals and minerals are mined, what is the extent of pollution and waste generated, what are the manufacturing processes that produce them, and the impact on workers, livelihoods, communities and ecosystems?

Life: What are the current consumer trends and developments in mobile technology, what are the impacts of the expansion of virtual connection, what are the consequences of a throw-away consumer culture, what is the impact of inbuilt obsolescence, and a business model that centres around constant 'upgrades'?

Death: How are these items disposed of, what are the recycling options and initiatives, what happens to our gadgets at the end of their life, what are the problems generated by e-waste?

Where to from here?

Short Circuit's concluding chapter examines the different strategies proposed by organisations and individuals to address the issues above. There are many action points and possibilite alternatives, including designing systems and products for the 'circular economy'; 'closing the loop' on the lifecycle of electronics so that our gadgets are infinitely recyclable, and create little or no waste throughout their entire lifecycle.

Ultimately however, we must address the deeper issue of our dominant throw-away consumer culture. The economic model run along these lines requires ever-more mining developments and aggressive marketing strategies to create our desire to own the latest gadget, no matter what the true cost. The aim of the Short Circuit report is to expose the hidden costs behind these electronic items so that as individuals and as a society we can re-assess their true value.

Liz Hosken, Director of The Gaia Foundation explains: "With the number of mobile-connected devices projected to exceed the number of humans on Earth by the end of 2013, Short Circuit reminds us that these gadgets are made from the body of the Earth - something which their shiny appearance belies. Our increased connectivity through communications masks our total disconnection with the Earth, our one and only life source. No sooner are these minerals and metals mined and processed into gadgets, they are discarded and upgraded in favour of the next 'generation'. With every new generation of phone or computer we devour and toxify more of the Earth, which has already been destabilised by the impact of industrial society over the last few centuries, triggering both climate change and mass extinction. If we care for the future of our children, we cannot allow this destructive system to continue. Short Circuit shows us there is another way, by establishing a circular economy, which respects our planets boundaries and life processes. This report sounds the alert and appeals for us all to respond."

What can I do?

Spread the word! Share this report and its key messages with family, friends and colleagues. Knowledge is power and our first challenge is to wake up to the destructive system we are unwittingly supporting. Share our spoof smartphone advert on facebook and twitter!

Do what you can to build a critical mass for change. There are a number of excellent campaigns which you can support to put pressure on governments and corporations to change the system. There are also numerous ways in which you can be the change you wish to see! Find out more about ways in which you can act and respond.