Each day, Christopher Swain straps on his clear, vinyl backpack and sets out into the sweltering heat. His backpack, nearly bursting with more than 61 pounds of unwanted electronics, has caused quite a stir in the New England communities through which he hikes.
Swain, a self-described environmental activist, is pleased with the attention that his e-waste pack is receiving, hoping that it will help raise awareness about the nation's growing e-waste problem. “We're really on the road in search of a solution,” he says. To find the solution, Swain is walking 775-miles from Burlington, Vt., to Washington on the “ToxTour,” an effort to promote the environmentally friendly disposal of e-waste.
After swimming Lake Champlain and the lengths of the Charles, Hudson and Columbia Rivers to promote clean water, Swain is used to taking on big adventures for good causes. Swimming through the harmful chemicals associated with e-waste inspired him to take his present course of action. “I was doing a fine job raising awareness, but I wasn't able to do the heavy lifting that I really wished I could do,” Swain says. “So, the ToxTour is my attempt to pick a piece of the mess that I encountered when I was swimming and try to help clean it up.”
Swain says that many consumers who choose to recycle their e-waste are unaware of where that material actually ends up. He notes that between 80 and 90 percent of unwanted electronics collected in the United States are sent to developing areas in countries such as China, India, Nigeria and Pakistan for processing, posing risks to the environment and to workers. So, accompanied by a vegetable oil-powered truck and several crew members, Swain walks up to 10 miles each day to call for sustainable e-waste disposal. On his back, he carries a keyboard, two laptops, a stereo receiver, a television, two cell phones and a cassette player.
“I wanted to actually have to physically deal with [the e-waste], not just push it in a cart,” Swain says. “I wanted to actually have to shoulder the toxic burden.” He hopes the ToxTour will yield 1 billion pounds of ethically recycled e-waste. So far, the ToxTour has recycled 949 pounds of unwanted electronics, which are collected by Wallingford, Conn.-based We Recycle!
Swain eventually plans to travel through Boston, New York, Trenton, N.J., Philadelphia, and Annapolis, Md., on his way to the coast, coinciding with several e-waste recycling events. He's also meeting with government officials and businesses, and with schools to develop e-waste programs.
Swain says that if he has one hope for the ToxTour, it's that it will show people that small efforts can help tackle e-waste, and will eventually lead to larger efforts. “I have to believe that,” Swain says, “Because its 90 degrees and my pack's heavy and I have a long way to go.”
For more information on the ToxTour or to read Swain's blog, visit www.toxtour.org.