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Dec 19, 2009

The Green Audiophile

Posted by The Advanced Audiophile

The rapid evolution of technology, a low initial cost, and planned obsolescence in consumer electronics have resulted in a fast-growing surplus of electronic waste around the globe. In the United States, an estimated 70% of heavy metals in landfills comes from discarded electronics, while electronic waste represents only 2% of America's trash in landfills. The EPA states that unwanted electronics totaled 2 million tons in 2005. Discarded electronics represented 5 to 6 times as much weight as recycled electronics.(2)

Making our hifi products more efficient to operate is all fine and dandy. But it seems the impact of producing them and what happens to them after their useful life is something far more serious to consider. They can contain hundreds of individual components; including metals, chemicals, plastics, polypropylene, and toxic materials. All of which require a lot of energy and materials in their manufacture, and all of which are materials that are very slow to decompose in landfill sites, and can leech chemicals while doing so. Even some attempt at recycling these components is not any sort of ideal solution. Because recycling these items, where possible, may be both difficult and expensive. Plus, recycling itself expends a lot of energy (of many forms), and has its own environmental impact. Recycling of materials from electronic scrap raises concerns over toxicity and carcinogenicity of some of its substances and processes. Toxic substances in electronic waste may include lead, mercury, and cadmium. Carcinogenic substances in electronic waste may include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Capacitors, transformers, and wires insulated with or components coated with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), manufactured before 1977, often contain dangerous amounts of PCBs. (2)

Up to 38 separate chemical elements are incorporated into electronic waste items. Many of the plastics used in electronic equipment contain flame retardants. These are generally halogens added to the plastic resin, making the plastics difficult to recycle. Due to the flame retardants being additives, they easily leach off the material in hot weather, which is a problem because when disposed of, electronic waste is generally left outside. The flame retardants leach into the soil and recorded levels were 93 times higher than soil with no contact with electronic waste. The unsustainability of discarding electronics and computer technology is another reason commending the need to recycle or to reuse electronic waste. (2)

Practitioners of Beltism tend to be the "greenest" audiophiles on the planet. Because they generally adopt a different approach when it comes to upgrading their sound. Where traditional audiophiles will trade in or trade off their old gear and buy new gear to replace it, Beltists usually retain their gear the longest; even "downgrading" in some cases. This puts less electronics into landfill sites. For the approach used here is that the "upgrading" is done to the hifi equipment itself, instead of replacing it with more equipment when one outgrows their sound. This is a very efficient, not to mention cost-effective means of acheiving similar ends. The environmental impact of producing products the nature of those produced by P.W.B (the tools most Beltists employ to upgrade their audio systems), is lesser than the packaging used to produce typical audio products.

In the end, a "Beltist" can keep their audio components out of the landfill site for as long as possible, and throughout its life, continually upgrade and maintain a sound every bit as good as their conventional audio counterparts. Probably better, because the kind of musically coherent sound possible through the productive use of Beltist treatments is generally not possible via conventional practices. Nor will it ever be, due to the inherently different nature of the two approaches to high resolution audio.


(1) "The Greenest Audio Systems Of 2008"

(2) From "Electronic Waste"

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Ringo said...

Downgrading ones audio system? This is the first time I've heard of it. From my own point of view, most of my audio-buddies really thought long and hard when upgrading to better sounding gear. Their audio systems that they no longer love tend to find loving homes 100% of the time either by resell or giving it away for free. Even though I'm currently using a number of PCB containing capacitor in my tube amps - it is very unlikely that they will end up in some landfill. Unless a stray US Air Force JDAM falls on my listening room.