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The Primary Politics of E-Waste

Here in Oregon where I live, our May 20th primary season is in full swing. Back on Super Tuesday many of us assumed that by now, the candidates would have long been chosen. But for the first time in forty years, at least on the left side of the aisle, Oregon’s presidential primary actually matters. Adding to the hubbub of attention from the Clinton and Obama campaigns for Portland residents like me are the twelve other races we have to vote on – among them, hotly contested races for U.S. Senate, Oregon’s secretary of state and attorney general, Portland’s mayor, city council seats, and state house and senate. So the phones have been ringing.

I have been adding to the clamor, making get-out-the-vote calls for city council and state house candidates. This is the KP duty of politics. Cold calling strangers, interrupting dinner, TV shows, trying to talk over crying babies and teenagers’ drum practice. “We’re not interested,” they say. Or, “I don’t follow local politics.” To which I want to reply, “Well, you should.” Because as unglamorous as a non-partisan seat on city council may seem or tedious it may be to keep up with who wants to be your next state legislator now that the incumbent is running for state senate, these races will determine how clean our rivers are and how we handle toxic trash.

One of the things I learned working on High Tech Trash was how much local politics matter when it comes to environmental protection. From New York, to Texas, Maine, California, Minnesota, Maryland, Washington state, and here in Oregon, decisions to require recycling of used electronics have been made at the local level. As a result, thousands of tons of e-waste containing lead and other toxics are being diverted from landfills and incinerators. And it is action at the local level that is helping shape manufacturers’ practices and influence national policy – decisions that will determine if the next generation of products contains neurotoxins and endocrine disrupting chemicals. So if you think your vote for the neighbor who’s running for that city council seat or working part-time to serve on the state legislature doesn’t matter, think again. It does.