Think Twice: Electronics and Holiday Gift Giving

November 17, 2011

Mall photo

According to new research published in the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA) report 18th Annual CE Holiday Purchase Patterns Study, overall spending this holiday will increase with at least one-third of that money going toward purchases of electronics. The CEA estimates that spending on electronics will reach an all-time high this year with the average consumer spending $246 on electronic gifts, an increase of 6 percent from 2010.

This increase shouldn’t come as a surprise. E-readers have taken over the book world, and digital cameras are a household mainstay. Already the advertisements for DVD players and video game accessories dominate our televisions. Every year brings upgrades for your favorite device, and as a culture, we’re encouraged to buy the latest and greatest release in electronics despite having a perfectly functional version in our hands.

It’s important to note that this rise in purchases of electronics isn’t necessarily a sign of a healthy economy. The headlines are clogged with stories of protestors demanding economic reform and houses are still foreclosing at a startling rate.  Instead, this trend in electronics spending is indicative of our consumerism as a society.

How many times have you received a gadget as a gift only to throw it away weeks later? How many cell phones will you purchase in your lifetime? Even a household staple like your garage door opener will one day find its way into a landfill.

All of these items have to go somewhere when we’re finished with them, and the tax on our environment for e-waste is substantial, not to mention the impact on the health of e-dump workers. Dismantling electronics releases chemicals into the air that when inhaled can cause inflammation and stress and can lead to heart disease, DNA damage, and possibly even cancer. Smuggling e-waste into developing countries is a rising problem, as well.

Probably the most interesting aspect of the CEA report is the survey of desired gifts for the holiday season. The CEA report states, “Notebook computers are also high on the list, along with peace/happiness and money.” What does it say about our culture that Americans rank peace and happiness alongside a Notebook?

As we enter the holiday season and begin our holiday shopping, it’s important to keep in mind that the object itself is only part of the gift. Being mindful of how it will be used and for how long is also important. Perhaps it’s a new electronic on its first run as a prototype and a more refined version will be released in the near future. Can it be recycled when it’s finished?

Regardless of what electronics we purchase, we inhabit a planet that can’t afford the environmental price of our careless consumerism. The responsibility of living green indicates that we change the trend. Electronics would be a wise place to start.

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Chris Keenan

is a green and general blog writer. He also maintains a personal cooking blog.