Tag Archives: Mapping

Time to rethink the e-waste problem

By Josh Lepawsky

My eye is caught by a recent news headline that proclaims “U.S. Isn’t Flooding the Third World with E-waste“. In the article, journalist Adam Minter – who in January spoke at the RGS-IBG Monday Night Lecture series – reports that the export of e-waste from the US is a trickle, rather than the flood it is often portrayed to be in a variety of NGO reports, news media, and academic publications. Tracing global flows of e-waste is a challenging task, one I take up most recently in The Geographical Journal.

After an analysis of 16 years of trade data for 206 territories and more than 9400 trade transactions, I’ve found that, indeed, it is necessary to rethink common representations of e-waste flows. Instead of a flood of e-waste flowing from so-called ‘developed’ countries to ‘developing’ countries, between 73-82 percent of total flows are traded between countries designated as ‘Annex VII’ signatories (the EU, OECD, and Lichtenstein) to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal – a key international agreement regulating the trade of hazardous wastes, including e-waste. More importantly, I’ve found that flows from ‘developing’ to ‘developed’ countries – the opposite of the usual e-waste storyline – grew substantially over the 16 years of available data. Indeed, flows of e-waste from non-Annex VII territories (or ‘developing’ countries’) to Annex VII territories (‘developed’ countries) climbed from just of 6.5 million kilograms in 1996 to over 140 million kilograms in 2012.

These findings offer crucial conceptual and policy insights into the issue of e-waste. Conceptually, the intense focus on e-waste dumping means that efforts at amelioration remain fixated on end-of-pipe solutions. As a consequence, insufficient effort is directed by those concerned about e-waste toward changing how the extraction of raw materials for them, their design, manufacturing, or their durability is done. Policies premised on halting the flow of e-waste from the global ‘North’ to the global ‘South’ via industrial recycling mean that a variety of environmental and economic benefits of repairing, reusing, and refurbishing digital equipment are destroyed. Moreover, trade bans like those envisioned under the Basel Convention, are increasingly irrelevant to present and likely future e-waste trade patterns – such trade is occurring almost entirely in directions that are either permissible under extant rules or in patterns not even imagined by those rules to be worthy of regulation. It is time to rethink the e-waste problem.

About the Author: Josh Lepawsky is a Professor in cultural, economic & political geography at the Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.

open-access-icon Lepawsky, J. (2014), The changing geography of global trade in electronic discards: time to rethink the e-waste problem. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12077

60-world2 Minter, A., U.S. Isn’t Flooding the Third World With E-WasteBloomberg View, 26 May 2013.

Movie Icon Minter, A., Our junkyard planet: travels in the secret trash tradeRGS-IBG Monday Night Lecture Series, 20 January 2014. [Members and Fellows of the Society can re-watch this lecture online].

Geographic Information Systems –a Tool for Geographers or a Science in Its Own Right?

Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 by Terje Sørgjerd

Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 by Terje Sørgjerd

by Briony Turner

There’s an interesting paper by Mordechai Haklay in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers which starts off by describing an ‘Iron Sheep’ exercise at the recent Association of American Geographers conference – one could be forgiven for thinking it’s a trial for inclusion in the next Bond film.

The paper itself provides an interesting history of geographical information science. The paper doesn’t touch on the difference between geographical information “science” and “systems” so for other geographers perhaps slightly unsure like myself, the science part is the theory behind the use and application of the technology/software that comprises geographic information systems.  Perhaps this confusion is itself a product of the ‘cleavage in GIS between two traditions, that of spatial information on the one hand and that of spatial analysis on the other’ (Goodchild, 1992).  Mordechai’s paper explores whether geographical information science is a sub discipline, or not, of Geography.

Back in the 1854 John Snow, one of the forefathers of modern day GIS as well as epidemiology, mapped out the Soho cholera outbreak using points to represent individual cases and revealed a cluster around a public water pump on Broad Street.  This led to identification of the contaminated water pump as the source of the disease.  For teachers, this legendary Cholera map in various GIS formats and suggested lesson content is freely available via the James Madison University National Centre for Rural Science and Mathematics Education.

In a more modern day context, Peter Webley, Assistant Research Professor at the Geographical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, who back in my undergraduate days was a Postdoctoral Research Associate in our Geography Department, uses GIS as a means to bring together fieldwork and remote sensing data for operational use. He’s now part of the IAF-AVO remote sensing group and is responsible for the volcanic ash cloud model forecasts for volcanoes around the world.   You might well ask, why focus on this individual?  It is creative individuals like him, that put to use GIS software to translate geographic data, models and forecasts into something tangible, understandable and operational for the rest of society.   For instance he developed a system to analyse thermal hotspot volcanic monitoring in Central America to help provide the information necessary for disaster warnings (UAF, 2012).  In addition to the day job, he’s part of a team that have developed “MapTEACH” which is a fantastic educational tool to help teachers and their students in Alaska get to grips with GIS whilst simultaneously preserving their community heritage, their history told through stories, with mapping.

Hopefully this post will have inspired some of you to seek out more information on GIS and for the teachers amongst you, perhaps to spend some lesson time on it.  The Royal Geographical Society has a GIScience Research Group, so do check out its pages if you’d like to find out more.  There’s a “Virtual Issue” of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers with papers over the past five decades covering the use of computers in geographical and cartographical research, a substantial amount of which, including Mordechai Haklay’s paper, are free to download so do also check them out.

For those of you in London, interested in debating this/want to meet people who use GIS in their jobs/research, the London Trainee and Student GIS Community are meeting for drinks at the aptly named John Snow pub, Sunday 20th January at 2pm, 39 Broadwich Sreet, London W1F9QL, the more the merrier!

GJ book reviewMichael F Goodchild, 1992, Geographical information science, International Journal of Geographical Information Systems, 6 31–45

books_iconMordechai Haklay, 2012, Geographic information science: tribe, badge and sub-disciplineTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37  477-481

GJ book review

Augustine eruption leads to updated model, University of Alasaka Fairbanks

Maps on the Internet

By Kelly Wakefield

The Internet holds the door open to millions of maps that have been created through professional organisations, such as Multimap and by amateurs.  The topic of my post this week has been inspired by James Cheshire’s research blog and his blog post ‘2010: Mapped’.  The blog was a summary of interesting maps from each month in 2010 which included a map of winter olympic medals and the London Elephant Parade. 

Haklay et al (2008) critically discuss the landscape of Internet mapping techniques and the change it has seen since 2005 with new techniques emerging.  Internet mapping started after the emergence of the WWW in the early 1990s and the rapid increase of the development of delivery mechanisms carried on into the 1990s. The term ‘neogeography’, attributed to Eisnor (2006) is “a socially networked mapping platform which makes it easy to find, create, share and publish maps and places”.  Neogeography is essentially Haklay et al (2008) suggest about people using and creating their own maps, on their own terms. 

The maps displayed in the blog cover many different topics and highly covered media stories from different sources and so challenges more traditional ideas of geography and geographical mapping.  As Haklay et al (2008) suggest ‘when all can potentially capture and distribute data through access to GPS, the Internet and mobile devices, what information can users trust?”

Haklay, M, Singleton, A and Parker, C (2008) ‘Web Mapping 2.0: The Neogeography of the GeoWeb’. Area, Vol. 2, Issue 6, p2011-2039

        James Cheshire’s Research Blog based in the Department of Geography and Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, University College London.

Spreading salt on the right roads?

by Jayne Glass

The news in late 2010 has been all about ‘the big freeze’.  Heavy snow has been falling across the UK earlier than normal, with some devastating effects. Usually, local councils work to keep the roads and pavements clear by spreading salt/grit. But despite attempts to stockpile salt ahead of this winter, some councils are already running low.  In Powys, Carmarthenshire and Caerphilly, councils have already used at least a quarter of their stock, and across Wales 15% of the salt supply has gone.

In 2008, John Thornes and Lee Chapman focussed on decision-making for salt spreading, in an article in Geography Compass.  Although the use of weather information systems for the winter maintenance of roads is now widespread, observations and predictions are often only available for a limited number of road sensor sites in a region.  Thornes and Chapman carried out a winter-long trial of the XRWIS road weather information system in Devon.  They found that up to 78 salting runs on 6 salting routes could have been prevented.  This would have saved up to £80,000 in labour and materials.  There is also scope for this system to be applied to prediction of low rail adhesion on the national rail network.

‘Road salt is disappearing fast, Welsh councils warn’: BBC News, 2 December 2010

Thornes, J. and Chapman, L. (2008). The Next Generation Road Weather Information System: A New Paradigm for Road and Rail Severe Weather Prediction in the UK. Geography Compass, June 2008

Mapping London 2012

By Kelly Wakefield

This week on the 27th of July, was the two year countdown to the start of the London Olympic Games in 2012.  With just 731 days to go (or at least there were when I started writing this) there has been growing support in London for the games.  According to a recent BBC article, Londoners are more supportive now than they were four years ago despite 55% believing the transport system won’t be able to cope. 

The official London 2012 website allows users to browse the sporting events by venue using an interactive map.  There are nine venues outside of London, five of which  are football venues and the rest will host other sports such as sailing, mountain biking and rowing.  The London venues numbering twelve are to be held in many existing arenas such as Wembley Arena, Earls Court and Wimbledon.  Some famous landmarks in the capital will be getting a temporary makeover for events such as triathlon set to be competed in Hyde Park and Beach Volleyball in Horse Guards Parade.  For some areas of London however, the landscape is set to change permanently.  Olympic Park containing the Olympic Village and seven venues will be a lasting legacy from the Games to East London and will be transformed into 2,800 new homes, including 1,379 affordable homes after 2012.

BBC, 27th July 2010, “London Olympics start in two years”

London 2012 Official Website, 27th July 2010, “Map, Explore”

London 2012 Official Website, 27th July 2010, “Venues”