Last week, a North Seattle man returned home to find his laptop was missing. He then discovered the basement window was broken and its door was open before seeing that two older computers were taken from the basement, along with two backpacks. His bedroom dresser drawers were rummaged through and his bed was moved. All of these signs indicate that he was burgled.

So what's interesting about this seemingly bland police report? The two older computers taken from the basement. It points directly to the coming flood of electronic waste (e-waste), much of which is growing in American basements across the land. The world produces 20-50 million tons of e-waste each year, with the U.S. accounting for about 3 million tons of it. Approximately 80% of our e-waste is exported to Asia.

If an electric toothbrush or TV dies in our house, we junk it without a thought, but this is not the case with personal computers and laptops. We keep them because, dead or alive, we have an attachment with the data on the hard drives. Will our attachment with these hard drives be broken by the emerging cloud storage technology? If that happens, the obsolete PCs and laptops will flow from our basements and flood the e-waste streams, sent off to faraway places in China, Nigeria, and Ghana, where they are stripped for their tiny value.

The old computers missing in this police report will probably find their way into another dark basement, and wait again for the coming flood.

I was inspired to write this post after hearing Joel McKim's brief 2013 talk at The University of London Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities. You can listen to "Surplus: A Symposium on Wealth, Waste, and Excess" here.