This project maps the global proliferation of two seemingly disparate cultural products—electronic waste and eucalyptus trees. Approximately 45 million tons of e-waste are generated worldwide every year, produced predominately by advanced capitalist nations like Japan and the United States. Still largely unregulated, this waste is shipped to developing countries, encouraging the growth of vast informal economies centered around e-waste processing and recycling. Given the amount of precious metals like gold found in many electronics, these activities can be quite lucrative. But given their informal and unregulated nature, these smelting practices can leach significant amounts toxins into the air and water, posing serious environmental and public health risks. Much research is being conducted to understand the best strategies for remediating these 21st century brownfields.
This project meditates on the way cultural products like technology come to pervade our daily lives, transitioning from seduction and enthusiasm to weariness and reluctant dependency. The infographics below juxtapose the rise of e-waste with the global proliferation of Eucalyptus globulus, a "miracle tree" spread by 19th century colonists in service of industry and environmental "improvement". Focusing specifically on the California Gold Rush, the project explores the Bay Area's uses of and attitudes towards eucalyptus since its introduction—from celebrating its oil as an elixir to demonizing it for its role in the spread of urban wildfires. A parallel history of mineral smelting and uncontrolled invasiveness is revealed around present day Silicon Valley, making the cultural case for the use of eucalyptus as a vehicle for e-waste brownfield remediation. By charting the boom and bust of cultural obsession with these two disparate entities—e-waste and eucalyptus—we find them to be the perfect bedfellows.