Friday, April 25, 2008

Hi – Fi ‘s Green Credentials: More Hype than Myth?

Ever sine electronic or e-waste became an environmental issue due jour, should we hi – fi enthusiast remind everyone again our green our hobby is like we supposedly did 10 or so years ago?

By: Vanessa UY

After seeing a BBC documentary about the sheer amount of plastic waste piling up on the Pacific island of Midway, especially plastic housings of pre-loved personal computers, I asked myself: “Why aren’t there hi – fi related parts out there like the synthetic wood used on good hi-fi speakers?” Another environmental group – Greenpeace – was recently (or is that perennially) vocal about the e-waste issue especially with regard to substances that are dangerous to human health like lead, cadmium, and arsenic used in a typical PC, mobile phones and other mass market PC related product. (Should Greenpeace also lecture to Iraqi insurgents not to use e-wastes as electronic triggers for their IED ‘s, since it’s dangerous to the health of US troops?) But seriously, has anyone wondered why hi-fi enthusiasts are not chucking their pre-loved gear into the garbage bin with similar frenzy as the PC crowd?

Though there are people who refurbish pre-loved PC ‘s, usually these are donated to impoverished parts of the world to promote computer literacy. The person doing the refurbishing is likely not the PC ‘s original owner. When a hi-fi gear becomes obsolete or worse yet “give up the ghost”, their owners either give them away to someone who is new to the hobby (usually a sibling or a very close friend) or cannibalized for the still functional parts if its busted beyond repair. Hi-fi enthusiasts regard their gear with such reverence that the only time you see their audio systems shattered and scattered in the middle of the street is when a 2,000-pound JDAM strays into their listening room. A friend of mine – an unabashed vacuum tube amplifier enthusiast - has his e-mail inbox filled to the brim with request for vacuum tubes, which have lived out their useful lives to be used in an art installation. To me, I even wonder if this is environmentalism or fanaticism.

Even though we never throw away our gear even after becoming obsolete (I’m even hanging on to my great grandmother’s 78 R.P.M. shellacs), our hobby can’t be considered completely green. Those “old school” audio amplifiers are very power hungry – even on standby. But given today’s high cost of grid electricity, most of us are either embracing photo voltaic – storage battery energy systems or are now too busy to listen to more than four hours a week on our audio systems. At least my pre-owned audio interconnect cables are not choking a flock of albatross in the middle of the Pacific.