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Tuesday,  July 10 12:01 AM EDT

Environmental Group Fears Growing
Problem of Digital Waste

By Brian Briggs

Seattle, WA - The growing problem of digital waste has many cyber-environmental groups concerned.

Our Future?The environmental group People Against Wasted Bits (PAWB) thinks education is the key. Debbie Hart who heads the organization explained, "Most people don't know that when you empty your Recycle Bin the contents are transferred to one of the big digital trash companies like CyberWaste or Digital Junkheap for processing. The capacity at these facilities is not infinite."

A representative from CyberWaste, which maintains the largest group of digital landfills, or cyberheaps as they call them, confirmed that many of their cyberheaps are at or near capacity and if something isn't done soon it will become a major problem.

Hart also worries that viruses and other infected programs aren't being properly handled. "Many people just throw these toxic bits away, which only passes along the problem to our children. What if one of these cyberheaps springs a leak and taints the bit supply?"

E-mail is the largest contributor to digital waste. In their pamphlets on digital conservation PAWB preaches the "Write Once, Send Many" strategy for e-mail. "There's nothing wrong with using the same rejection e-mail, or memo about people stealing food from the refrigerator more than once," said Hart. "It's called a recycle bin for a reason people. You're supposed to take those files back out when you have a use for them, or until someone else has a use for them and removes them."

The pamphlet also suggests not deleting whole lines of text unless completely necessary. "Those characters might be able to used elsewhere, so make cut and paste your friend, and delete and backspace your enemy," advised Hart. "If you absolutely have to empty your Recycle Bin please "Sort by Type" so the workers down at the processing plant don't have to."

In addition PAWB supports classes in object-oriented programming, which is able to reuse large chunks of code, and open source programming, which builds on already created programs.

"In fact we filed an amicus brief in the SCO vs. IBM case because we think the positive benefits of reused code in Linux from Unix greatly outweigh any problems copyright infringement," shared Hart.

Second on the list of digital polluters is file sharing programs. Many groups would like file integrity checks be required of all peer-to-peer sharing programs. "I'm almost in tears every time I hear of a 640 MB file being downloaded and then the user finds out it is corrupted or not labeled correctly. It's one more step towards digital eco-Armageddon," said a saddened Hart.

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The PAWB "Think of the Children" pamphlet suggests cutting and pasting these corrupted files to CD instead of deleting them. It would save valuable space in our cyberheaps.

PAWB's extensive lobbying effort has convinced Washington Senator Maria Cantwell whose state houses the most digital landfills to introduce legislation mandating digital recycling at companies with more than 100 employees. "We don't want our kids to run out of e's or surf in on a littered information superhighway, do we?" asked Cantwell.

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