International E-waste Design Competition Turns Refuse into Resource

Electronic waste, or “E-Waste,” generated by computers, TVs, cameras, printers, and cell phones, is a growing global issue. According to the U.S. EPA, Americans currently own nearly 3 billion electronic products and as new products are purchased, obsolete products are stored or discarded at alarming rates. About two-thirds of the electronic devices removed from service are still in working order. However, only about 15% of this material is recycled while the vast majority is disposed in landfills. The Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI), hosted by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), is pleased to announce the International E-Waste Design Competition, in which participants will explore solutions to this problem at the local level and beyond, by using e-waste components to create appealing and useful products.

The competition began in spring 2009 as a local event on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. It was held in conjunction with a class on sustainability and e-waste issues taught by industrial design professor William Bullock of the School of Art and Design. Students in this class conducted an e-waste collection on campus to gather unused CPUs, monitors, keyboards, mice, printers, scanners and cell phones as fodder for design competition projects. Educational goals for the students included learning about ways to re-use e-waste for new and productive means, exploring ideas for how to address e-waste problems, and contributing to the body of knowledge that advances the practice of environmentally responsible product design for current and future computing technology products.

Participants in the spring 2009 competition worked in groups of no more than five people, and their creations were displayed during a public competition event, held on the UIUC Quad. Eighty-one students from various disciplines competed in the contest, which awarded $15,000 in tuition support and other prizes. Judges included representatives from the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center; the Chicago Center for Neighborhood Technology; Dell Inc.; the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Bureau of Energy and Recycling; Microsoft Corp.; Wal-Mart Stores Inc.; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; and West Monroe Partners LLC, Chicago.

Response to the competition was so positive that it was decided to expand the scope of the competition to an international event for 2010. Having projects submitted online in the form of videos allows anyone in the world to participate. The competition is open to anyone 18 years or older who is currently attending college, or who graduated from college since May 2006. Teamwork across disciplines, backgrounds and ages is encouraged. One entry per person or team is allowed. Participants can submit entries in either of two categories: the “Designer/Artist Category”, which focuses on the aesthetic elements and physical interaction with the device, or the “Technical/Geek Category,” which focuses on electronic components. Entries will be in the form of original video compositions uploaded to the competition web site. Registration is free. Online registration opens January 11, 2010. Registration closes and competition submissions are due April 1, 2010. Detailed registration information, judging criteria and submission information is available on the competition web site,

Professor Bullock will once again be teaching a class on e-waste issues in the spring 2010 semester, and students will be holding another local collection event on the UIUC campus to obtain materials for their designs. Students will be encouraged to enter their class projects into the international competition, and will have a local exhibition of their projects, similar to the event which took place on the Quad in spring 2009. The finalists’ videos from the international competition will be presented to the public during the International E-Waste Video Festival, on April 20, 2010 at 5 p.m. in 112 Gregory Hall on the Campus of the University of Illinois. This festival is part of the Food/Health/Place/Sustainability Film Series being shown on campus in the spring. Finalist entries will also be publicized through the web site and press events.

Awards will also be announced during the April 20 video festival. The jury will award one finalist from each of the two categories, for a total of six monetary awards. A total of $16,000 in prize money will be awarded to six winning teams: A Platinum Award of 4000 USD, a Gold Award of 3000 USD, and a Silver Award of 1000 USD in each category. The decisions of the jury are final. Honorable Mention awards may be given at the discretion of the judges. Juror invitations have gone out to industry leaders representing Fortune 500 companies, such as Google, Microsoft, Motorola, the U.S. EPA, Boeing, Dell and others, and will be announced in the spring.

The International E-Waste Design Competition and the related industrial design course taught by Professor Bullock are part of the educational component of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI). SEI is a consortium dedicated to the development and implementation of a more sustainable system for designing, producing, remanufacturing, and recycling electronic devices. Members of the consortium include academia, non-profit organizations, government agencies, manufacturers, designers, refurbishers, and recyclers. Specific elements of the SEI include programs for research, education, data management, and technical assistance. SEI conducts collaborative research; facilitates networking and information exchange among participants; promotes technology diffusion via demonstration projects; and provides forums for the discussion of policy and legislation.

For more information on SEI, visit or contact Dr. Tim Lindsey, Associate Director of ISTC, at 217-333-8955. For more information on the International E-Waste Design Competition, contact Professor William Bullock at 217-265-0873 or Joy Scrogum at 217-333-8940.

ISTC is a unit of the Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

4 Replies to “International E-waste Design Competition Turns Refuse into Resource”

  1. I agree with the above commenter about the desirability of more electronic recycling centers, but I don’t think they should be government funded. The government is already involved in too much!

  2. There should really be government-funded recycling centers for consumer electronics, especially since it is the fastest growing recyclable category in the U.S. These collection centers are definitely a start though!

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