Join SEI’s parent organization, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) for a webinar this Thursday, February 12, from 12:00 – 1:00 pm CST. Our presenter will be Eric Masanet – Morris E. Fine Junior Professor in Materials and Manufacturing and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Chemical and Biological Engineering, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, Northwestern University. Dr. Masanet will discuss How sustainable is information technology? Trends, challenges, and opportunities.
Abstract:The growing numbers of information technology (IT) devices—and the environmental impacts associated with their manufacture, use, and disposal—are topics that have received much attention in both the media and research communities. While the environmental footprint of IT devices is indeed significant, each new device generation typically brings substantial operational energy efficiency improvements. Furthermore, a singular focus on their direct impacts ignores the indirect environmental benefits that IT devices might provide by improving societal energy and resource efficiencies. A growing body of research suggests that such benefits might be substantial across the economy through such applications as replacing physical goods with digital services, building controls for energy efficiency, and real-time logistics optimization. This presentation will review the life-cycle impacts of IT systems, discuss trends in these impacts as a function of technology progress and growing consumption over time, and highlight the challenges and opportunities associated with managing and reducing the environmental impacts of IT systems moving forward.
Happy P2 Week, from the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI), GLRPPR’s partner in creating a sustainable future! P2, or pollution prevention, is defined by the U.S. EPA as “reducing or eliminating waste at the source by modifying production processes, promoting the use of non-toxic or less-toxic substances, implementing conservation techniques, and re-using materials rather than putting them into the waste stream.” Source reduction is a key element in P2.
So let’s talk about source reduction as it relates to electronics, and more specifically, electronics consumers. Not everyone reading this post is an electronics manufacturer, electrical engineer, computer scientist, electronics recycler, or someone else who might be involved the design, production, or end-of-life management of electronic devices. But you are all certainly electronics consumers, scanning these words on the screen of your smartphone, desktop, laptop, tablet, or other device. Given that, the following are five ways we can all practice source reduction in one way or another as we choose and use the gadgets that support our work and play.
1. Buy EPEAT registered products. Originally funded by the US EPA, Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool, or EPEAT, is a searchable database of electronics products in certain categories, which is administered currently by the Green Electronics Council. EPEAT criteria are developed collaboratively by a range of stakeholders, including manufacturers, environmental groups, academia, trade associations, government agencies, and recycling entities. Criteria for current product categories are based upon the IEEE 1680 family of Environmental Assessment Standards (IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, also known primarily by its acronym). The criteria include attributes from throughout the product life cycle–i.e. throughout the stages of design, manufacture, use, and disposal, including such relevant issues as reduction/elimination of environmentally sensitive materials, and product longevity/life extension. The EPEAT registry currently includes desktops, laptops/notebooks, workstations, thin clients, displays (computer monitors), televisions, printers, copiers, scanners, multifunction devices, fax machines, digital duplicators and mailing machines. New products may be added to the registry in the future as criteria are developed for them.
2. Buy refurbished devices. Maybe you’re concerned about the environmental and social impacts of manufacturing electronics, such as mining, use of potentially hazardous materials, labor issues, energy use (did you know that most of the energy consumption in the life cycle of a computer is in its manufacture, not its use?). You might also worry about the ever growing mountains of e-waste that society is generating. The surest way to reduce all of those negative impacts is to reduce the number of new devices that are produced to meet our consumer demand. No, I’m not suggesting that we must all turn our backs on technology and join a commune. But if you genuinely need another device, or a replacement for one that finally gave up the ghost, remember you don’t have to buy something grand spanking new. And that doesn’t mean you have to take your chances shopping for used electronics, which may or may not end up functioning correctly, from some anonymous source on an online marketplace. Refurbished electronics differ from “used” electronics in a key way–they’ve been tested and verified to function properly. Often these are items that have been returned to a manufacturer or retailer because someone had a change of heart, or there was some defect found while the item was under warranty. In that case, the item could be like new, or is easily repaired, but it can’t legally be resold as new. So, once it has been checked for proper functioning and repaired if necessary, the item is designated “refurbished”–and sold at a discount. Refurbished items may also have been used as display units or even sent to an electronics recycler who determined that the device still functioned, or who returned it to full functionality through repair. Finding refurbished items is pretty easy. Ask the clerks at the electronics retail outlet if there are any refurbished items in stock. If you’re shopping online, most big electronics retailer web sites allow you to search for refurbished items in their catalogs, and may even designate them as “certified refurbished” devices, granting their personal assurance that they’ve thoroughly tested those items. And some independent electronics recyclers and asset management firms have their own online stores for selling items they refurbish. If you decide to go that route, start at the US EPA’s list of certified electronics recyclers to find responsible recyclers in your area, and check their web sites. You’ll rest easy knowing you extended the useful life of a device AND saved yourself some money compared to a brand new device.
3. Use multifunction devices. Another great way to reduce the number of devices you or your organization buy, and thus ultimately have to dispose of, is to use devices that can serve more than one purpose. Classic examples are devices that can perform various combinations of the following tasks: printing, copying, scanning, faxing, and emailing. Now “2-in-1″ computers are also popular–converting between laptop and tablet configurations through detachable keyboards or screen flipping and folding gymnastics. Besides reducing the number of devices being used, there’s also potential space saving, power saving, and cost savings to consider in favor of multifunction devices.
4. Use networking to reduce the number of printers in your home or office. Odds are your office already uses networking to connect multiple devices to one printer, but at home you might still have separate printers for the kids’ bedroom and the office space the adults use downstairs, for example. You can set up networking at home too, and you don’t have to be “technologically inclined” to do it. Check out Microsoft’s guide to setting up a network printer or this guide from About.com that can address non-Windows devices as well. And at work, even if you have to print confidential information, you can still use a network printer and not have your own machine by your desk, by using confidential printing options available on modern printers. See the University of Illinois guide to confidential printing, or this guide from Office to learn how. If these don’t exactly address the make and model of printer you have, search the Internet for “confidential printing” plus the brand of printer you have, and you’ll probably find the help you need.
5. Repair instead of replace. Again, this is not something only the “technologically inclined” can accomplish. We’ve been trained to think of our devices as both literal and figurative “black boxes” which run on magic by the grace of fickle technological gods, never to be understood by mere mortals. Nonsense. Not only can you likely find plenty of computer/technology repair services in your area (which is great for your local economy), you can actually perform repair yourself–I know you can. Check out the iFixit web site for example. They provide an online community for sharing photo-filled, easy to follow repair guides, not just for electronics, but for all sorts of things. Did your smartphone screen crack? Search for it on the iFixit site before you replace it. You might not only find the guide to show you how to fix the problem, but the new screen and the tools you’ll need to do the work as well, which will likely be cheaper than the new device you might buy otherwise. The folks at iFixit also like to assign “repairability scores” to devices, which can help you purchase items that are easier to repair, and thus keep around longer. Of course tinkering with your device might affect the warranty, if one still applies. Be sure you understand the terms of your warranties first. There are some discussions on the iFixit site related to warranties, and you might also be interested in their commentary on some of the controversy surrounding what is known as “the right to repair.”
Do you have other source reduction suggestions related to electronics? Feel free to share them in the comments section.
Join Joy Scrogum of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center‘s Sustainable Electronics Initiative to learn about topics related to electronic devices and greener procurement. She’ll discuss purchase avoidance, reuse, repairing instead of replacing, supply chain issues (e.g., conflict minerals), and resources to help make more responsible choices. This webinar is a presentation for the IL Green Governments Coordinating Council Procurement Subcommittee, but is open to other interested parties. The webinar will take place from 9-10 AM (Central time) on Tuesday, October 21, 2014. Register at https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/890717127.
Happy P2 Week, Everyone! If you’ve never heard of this celebration, P2 stands for Pollution Prevention, and P2 Week is celebrated from September 15-21, 2014. P2 Week is in fact celebrated annually during the third week in September, and according to the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable (NPPR), it’s “an opportunity for individuals, businesses, and government to emphasize and highlight their pollution prevention and sustainability activities and achievements, expand current pollution prevention efforts, and commit to new actions.” Check out their site and P2 Week Tool Kit, as well as the US EPA’s Pollution Prevention Week page for tips on preventing pollution at home and work.
Preventing pollution is of particular importance when it comes to considerations of sustainable electronics design, manufacture, use, and disposal, given that an annual report by the Blacksmith Institute and Green Cross Switzerland included for the first time in 2013, Agbogbloshie, in Accra, Ghana, as one of the ten most polluted places on Earth.The Top Ten Toxic Threats: Cleanup, Progress, and Ongoing Challenges 2013 edition “presents a new list of the top ten polluted places and provides updates on sites previously published by Blacksmith and Green Cross. A range of pollution sources and contaminants are cited, including hexavalent chromium from tanneries and heavy metals released from smelting operations. The report estimates that sites like those listed in the top ten pose a health risk to more than 200 million people in low- and medium-income countries.” Other notoriously contaminated sites on the list include Chernobyl in the Ukraine, the Citarum River in Indonesia, and the heavy concentration of tanneries in Hazaribagh, Bangladesh.
The Agbogbloshie site has been the focus of a lot of recent media attention due to the extensive environmental degradation caused there by informal electronics recycling; it is the second largest electronic waste processing site in West Africa. If you would like to see the extent of the pollution, and get a feel for the lives of the people who work in the area, some of whom are children, I recommend the film Terra Blight. (See my previous post on this film’s inclusion in a sustainability film festival on campus, and the LibGuide that accompanies the films from the festival. The film can be checked out from the Prairie Research Institute Library by those on the UI campus or via interlibrary loan.) A number of striking photo essays have also been published, including one earlier this year in the Guardian by photographer Kevin McElvaney. The film and photos show us the stark consequences of endless manufacturing advances and consumer quests for upgrades. Gadgets that aren’t responsibly recycled may end up in landfills, or worse–in places like Agbogbloshie where the poor try to earn an honest living processing the waste to salvage precious materials using whatever means are available, including fire or rocks to hammer open lead-laden monitors.
It is the lead spilled into the environment through informal recycling that earns Agbogbloshie its place on the Top Ten Toxic Threats list, though certainly other toxins are released from the electronics processed there. From the report’s highlights: “Agbogbloshie is a vibrant informal settlement with considerable overlap between industrial, commercial, and residential zones. Heavy metals released in the burning process easily migrate into homes, food markets, and other public areas. Samples taken around the perimeter of Agbogbloshie, for instance, found a presence of lead levels as high as 18,125 ppm in soil. The US EPA standard for lead in soil is 400 ppm. Another set of samples taken from five workers on the site found aluminum, copper, iron, and lead levels above ACGIH TLV guidelines. For instance, it was found that one volunteer had aluminum exposure levels of 17 mg/m3 compared with the ACGIH TLV guideline of 1.0 mg/m3.”
The point is that the only long-term solution to stopping environmental degradation in places like Agbogbloshie, and the struggles to find safe and widely accepted end-of-life management options for electronics and all their components is to practice true pollution prevention–through source reduction, modification of production processes, promotion of non-toxic or less toxic materials, conservation of natural resources, and reuse of materials to prevent their inclusion in waste streams. This will by no means be easy, nor will the changes necessary happen overnight. But it’s work that must be done, and done by ALL of us, in whatever way we interact with the electronics product lifecycle. Designers and manufacturers must learn and practice green chemistry and green engineering. Consumers must become aware of the sustainability issues surrounding electronics and make more informed choices–including buying less by extending the useful lives of devices as much as possible. And recyclers, policy makers, entrepreneurs, manufacturers, and consumers must all work to ensure that materials from products that have reached the end of their first intended life be collected and reclaimed for use in new processes. Electronics are something we all use, at home and at work, in one form or another. And through images and statistics like those from Agbogbloshie, we understand that environmental and social impacts of our industrial world do not truly go “away” any more than waste itself does.
To learn more about pollution prevention, visit the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR) web site. GLRPPR is posting P2 week information all week on its blog, including two posts contributed by SEI related to electronics. Check out the GLRPPR blog on Tuesday (9/16/14) for source reduction tips for electronics consumers, and on Thursday (9/18/14) for information on flame retardants and electronics.
This meeting is focused on operations. Are you unsure of how to handle the disposal of University-owned electronics? Jeff Weaver, of University Property Accounting and Reporting, will outline the campus procedures for proper end-of-life management of electronic devices. Bart Bartels of Facilities and Services will discuss an upcoming e-waste collection event for the campus community for non-University owned devices. Information on other community electronics recycling opportunities will also be provided to raise awareness among faculty, staff and students on how to handle their personal electronics. With the time remaining, we can discuss opportunities to improve policies and diversion rates to guide future operations-related activities of this consortium.
If you are unable to attend the meeting in person, it will also be broadcast via GoToWebinar. You may register for the webinar at https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/660159455. Feel free to share this link with other interested parties.
Contact: Joy Scrogum, Co-coordinator, Sustainable Electronics Initiative, ISTC, Champaign IL (217) 333-8948
NINE STUDENTS HONORED FOR FRESH IDEAS IN SUSTAINABLE ELECTRONICS
International Sustainable Electronics Competition Awards 2013 Winners
CHAMPAIGN, IL – (Dec. 6, 2013) Old smart phones don’t have to be doomed to silence in a drawer or a landfill. According to two winners of the 2013 International Sustainable Electronics Competition the phones can keep track of your cattle, or be tiled together to form large-scale electronic displays.
The Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) at ISTC has held the annual competition since 2009 to prompt dialogue about the environmental and social impacts of electronics and to contribute to the body of knowledge that advances the practice of environmentally responsible product design, manufacture, use, and disposal for electronics. The competition is open to college and university students and recent graduates.
E-waste Meets Farming, smart phones remanufactured as cow collars (Platinum, $3,000) Michael Van Dord, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia;
Mion, a multi-purpose dynamo lighting system (Gold, $2,000) Mikenna Tansley, Jiayi Li, Fren Mah, Russell Davidson, and Kapil Vachhar from the University of Alberta, Canada;
Cellscreen, a large scale display system made from old phone displays (Silver, $1,000) Sam Johnston, Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.
One platinum level ($3,000) winner was named in the Non-product Category (concepts valuable for artistic, educational, policy, or similar content):
ENERGENCIA, an educational program based on a children’s game kit encouraging the use of recycled materials and renewable energy concepts by Stephanie Vázquez and Pedro Baños of Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey Campus Puebla, Mexico.
“The world must find ways to end the tide of e-waste in the environment,” said Craig Boswell, U of I graduate and president of HOBI International, an ISO 14001 certified electronics recycling and asset management company. “This competition, and these brilliant young winners, help us advance the dialog about environmentally responsible product design, manufacture, use, and disposal of electronics,” he added.
Boswell was one of an expert panel of six judges consisting of industry professionals, recycling experts, and the competition founder, William Bullock, professor of Industrial Design, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The cash prizes were funded by donations from Arrow Electronics, Professional Field Services, and ISTC.
Other jurors were: Jason Linnell, executive director, National Center of Electronics Recycling; Bill Olson, director, Office of Sustainability and Stewardship, Motorola Mobility, LLC; Lynn Rubinstein, executive director, Northeast Recycling Council; and Kyle Wiens, CEO, iFixt and Dozuki.
Joe Verrengia, director of Corporate Social Responsibility for Arrow Electronics, participated in the ceremony, noting “We understand more than ever now that the end of life of all of those electronics is often very short. We need to come up with something better to deal with that. Competitions and incubators can develop those ideas that hopefully help the world, help Arrow, and maybe be a source of really smart new workers in the future.”
See below for a more complete description of the winners and their entries.
Platinum ($3,000): E-waste Meets Farming. This project tackles e-waste through the reuse of discarded but internally (circuit board and CPU) functioning smart phones in the manufacture of cow collars. A cow collar is a device worn by cattle on dairy farms which can store information about the individual animal wearing it. It can also send that information to a central hub to be backed up, and communicate with machinery on the farm so that the cow is fed correctly and milked for the correct amount of time, etc. Cow collars can warn farmers of sickness or other health concerns for individual animals by monitoring activity and conditions through the inclusion of a GPS and accelerometers. The advantage of reusing smart phones in cow collars is that all the necessary components are assembled in a very compact and highly functional way. The phone has GPS, accelerometers, wireless technology, printed circuit boards, and software compatibility. Furthermore phones damaged beyond the point of being internally functional can also be used for the manufacture of cow collars, by being recycled via normal streams. The resulting materials, such as plastics, can be used in the construction of casing and external collar components. This concept was submitted by an undergraduate in product design engineering, Michael Van Dord, from Swinburne University of Technology in Australia.
Gold ($2,000): Mion. Mion is a multi-purpose, dynamo-powered bike light for people living in disadvantaged communities. Their lack of an adequate source of lighting makes it difficult to perform evening tasks, including children’s studies, resulting in a significant barrier to human development. Mion is designed with consideration for the people living in these communities and who are lacking traditional furniture. Its organic form provides multiple lighting angles when placed on a flat surface, one focused and one ambient. This allows for optimal lighting, giving the user an option between more open or focused coverage. Mion uses the energy provided by a dynamo: a small motor that generates electricity using the propulsion of a bicycle wheel. The dynamo uses rotating coils of wire and magnetic fields to convert mechanical rotation into a pulsing direct electric current through Michael Faraday’s law of induction. In the long term, a dynamo is both cheaper and more ecological than a battery-powered system. When Mion is clamped onto the bike frame, it uses a direct energy source from the dynamo, charging its reserve AA batteries while also having the ability to provide light during the evening hours. Its detachable clamp allows the user to bring the lighting fixture wherever needed. In addition, the reserve, rechargeable AA batteries, may be removed and used within other products. These batteries become a significant object in themselves as the lack of reliable electricity can lead to other issues with day-to-day activities. Each part of Mion is made from recycled electronic waste. The internal components of the light and dynamo are repurposed parts from old electronics such as desktop computers, cameras, and cell phones (including LEDs, magnets, copper wire, and gears in the dynamo). Both the housing unit for the light and the dynamo casing are made of recycled plastics which can be reclaimed from electronic devices. Mion was submitted by a group of design students (Mikenna Tansley, Jiayi Li, Fren Mah, Russell Davidson, and Kapil Vachhar) from the University of Alberta in Canada.
Silver ($1,000): Cellscreen. The Cellscreen is a large-scale, coarse display intended to function as an advertisement or public display. The Cellscreen itself can be thought of as a tile which forms the base unit from which many different configurations can be made. Each tile is comprised of disused cell phone displays which form the display matrix. The premise is that a run of tiles can be produced from one set of screens at a time due to the large volume of cell phones that are disposed of. For example, there might be a range of tiles comprised entirely of iPhone 3g screens. Grouping screens by type is intended to circumvent any issues that might arise from display quality when mixing and matching screens from different manufactures and for compatibility. Cellscreen tiles comprised from older devices, such as early color screens, might be well suited to large scale advertising whereas those from newer devices with high pixel density and touch functions might be suited to other applications, such as information kiosks. Cellscreen is targeted toward manufacturers and suppliers of cell phones encouraging them to reclaim their obsolete products for reuse in a new product. Cellscreen was submitted by Sam Johnston, an undergraduate in product design from Swinburne University of Technology in Australia.
Platinum ($3,000): ENERGENCIA. ENERGENCIA is an educational program based on a game kit in which children can build their own toys using recyclable materials, reusable electronic devices, and renewable energy concepts to create projects that can move, turn lights on, etc. These projects employ reusable, reclaimed electronic components like small engines supplied in the game kit. The other recyclable materials like cardboard, cans, and plastic bottles can be obtained by children themselves to complete a project. Through the projects made possible by the game kit children learn about alternative energy sources and develop environmental awareness and positive environmental behaviors. The students who submitted this concept developed theories related to the ideal age range of children for which this kit would be effective, and they investigated these ideas through a hands-on workshop for children conducted in cooperation with teachers from schools at the American School of Puebla. This concept was submitted by undergraduates Stephanie Vázquez and Pedro Baños of Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey Campus Puebla in Mexico.
The Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the home of the State Scientific Surveys: Illinois Natural History Survey, Illinois State Archaeological Survey, Illinois State Geological Survey, Illinois State Water Survey, and Illinois Sustainable Technology Center. For over 160 years the Surveys have applied cutting-edge science and expertise to keep Illinois’ economy, environment and people prosperous and secure. www.prairie.illinois.edu
The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) was established in 1985 and joined the Prairie Research Institute with the other surveys in 2008. Its mission is to encourage and assist citizens, businesses, and government agencies to prevent pollution, conserve natural resources, and reduce waste to protect human health and the environment of Illinois and beyond. www.istc.illinois.edu
Donations are being accepted to support the International Sustainable Electronics Competition, part of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC). These donations are used for cash prizes in the competiiton and program administrative costs. There are five sponsorship levels: “Friend” is for donations up to $99; “Bronze” signifies gifts of $100 to $499; “Silver” donations are from $500 to $1499; “Gold” sponsors have provided $1500 to $4999 in support; and “Platinum” designates sponsors that have contributed $5000 or more. As a donor, you will be acknowledged on the competition web site unless you wish to remain anonymous. Corporations and organizations will have their logos and a link to their web site featured on the competition web site.
The competition began in 2009 as a local event on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and grew out of a class on e-waste issues taught by UIUC industrial design professor William Bullock. Participants focused on reuse of electronic scrap to make new products that first year. The event became international in 2010 with submission and judging occurring online. This continues currently, with entries including a brief YouTube video of the concept, among other requirements. The competition categories have evolved over time to include prevention as well as reuse, and for 2013, the categories have changed to “Product” and “Non-Product” to make the multidisciplinary nature and whole life-cycle focus of SEI more apparent. See our previous post, “International Sustainable Electronics Competition: New Name, New Categories, New Criteria” for further information on the changes for 2013 and the competition web site for complete rules, requirements, and videos for previous years’ winners. Also, check out the recently finalized list of expert jurors for 2013.
Each year, SEI staff members are amazed and inspired by the interesting and innovative ideas put forth by competition participants. It makes us proud to be part of this unique educational experience, which prompts college students and recent graduates throughout the world–society’s future leaders–to learn about and propose solutions for the environmental and social issues associated with our ubiquitous electronic devices. So consider even a modest $15 donation to show your support for inspiring students to conceive of new, more environmentally responsible ways to design, manufacture, use, and manage electronics. Contact Joy Scrogum (217-333-8948) for more information or see http://www.ewaste.illinois.edu/sponsors.cfm.
The jurors for this year’s International Sustainable Electronics Competition (formerly known as the International E-Waste Design Competition) have been announced. Returning again this year are past participants Bill Olson, Director of the Office of Sustainability and Stewardship for Mobile Devices Business, Motorola, Inc., and Jason Linnell, Executive Director of the National Center for Electronics Recycling (NCER). They are joined this year by: UIUC alum and President of HOBI International, Inc., Craig Boswell; competition founder, UIUC Professor of Industrial Design in the School of Art + Design and ISTC Affiliated Faculty Scientist, William Bullock; Executive Director of the Northeast Recycling Council and Program Manager for the State Electronics Challenge, Lynn Rubinstein; and CEO of iFixit and Dozuki, Kyle Wiens. For complete juror bios, see http://www.ewaste.illinois.edu/judges.cfm.
Registration is free and opens September 1, 2013. Participants are asked to explore solutions to remediate the existing e-waste problem, prevent e-waste generation in the future, and foster a more sustainable system for electronic device development, use, and management. Submissions include a project description, brief YouTube video, and bibliography. See the competition Rules for complete details on eligibility, categories, judging criteria, and submission requirements. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top three entries in each of two categories. For more information on participating, incorporating the competition into a class, or sponsoring the competition, contact Joy Scrogumvia email or at 217-333-8948.
This post was written by ISTC staff member Kirsten Walker.
When I first started at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) last year, it took me a while to wrap my head around all that is involved with sustainable electronics. As an environmental educator it quickly became clear that I had to figure out a way to translate this information and its environmental connections and concerns to learners of all ages. At first, I thought this material would not be appropriate for students younger than middle or high school because of the concepts behind circuits, conflict minerals, and toxic materials. I soon learned that I needed to alter my thinking and come up with ways to present this to an audience we meet with frequently–elementary students.
The second event was when Joy Scrogum and I were asked to teach a hands-on lesson for two hours about sustainable electronics to a group of mostly second grade girls. We felt a true test on the horizon. There were challenges and barriers we had to overcome. First, there were a number of small and potentially hazardous parts to be found in something as simple as a cell phone, so displaying those parts was troublesome. We often carry around two keyboards to different outreach events. One is an older model that has a full circuit board and the other is a newer, lighter version with a plastic sheet circuit board (see below). Those visuals helped, but the older circuit board has sharp solder points, so it is not conducive to hands-on activities.
Circuit board of older keyboards.
Lighter weight keyboard with plastic circuit.
It came down to a variety of approaches on the topic starting with a discussion of what would happen if they had lost their personal game devices. Since students felt an emotional attachment to their devices, the students were able to see their own value in making sure they take care of them. We presented a short video from a PBS show (Loops and Scoops) on the materials found in game devices and the problem with disposal of electronics. We briefly presented the number of miles it took for the parts of an electronic gadget like a laptop or game device to be assembled and shipped to them. We talked about the solutions and problems associated with electronic items and the current landfill ban in Illinois. Finally, we presented them with some of the concepts that college students have submitted to our annual International Sustainable Electronics Competition . Then we challenged them to create a new electronic device out of old electronics that would otherwise be discarded. It took some time and collaboration, but then the ideas were flowing and the girls were excited to draw what they would invent with discarded electronics. One of my favorites was a device that could be hooked up to the carrier of one of the girl’s cats that would translate her “meows” to human speech. The girl thought it would be a great way to know what her cat wants and she could communicate to her cat in return. Genius.
A second grader’s idea on how to recreate a new electronic from other electronics.
The picture above was from girl who seemed to grasp the concept that everyone seems to lose the remote control but not their phones, so why not have your cell phone double as device to change the television channels?
Keyboard beads made from broken keyboards collected for recycling by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
We finished the class with an activity that required a lot of preparation on on our part. Keyboard keys can be made into personalized bracelets. It required removal of back posts and drilling holes to feed string through the keys, but they are always a big hit. The girls were particularly happy to see that we had created kits with the letters of their names and extra decorative beads for “bling.” Overall, we achieved our goal presenting sustainable electronics to students at a grade school level. I’m sure modifications will be made to improve the format of the day if we take another opportunity to present, but we feel the activities were appropriate and enjoyable.
The International E-Waste Design Competition has changed its name, categories, & judging criteria. The competition, now known as the International Sustainable Electronics Competition, is part of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC). It originated in 2009, when it emerged from a class on e-waste issues taught by industrial design Professor William Bullock, an affiliated faculty scientist at ISTC. The competition was focused entirely on reuse of electronic scrap during that first year. What began as a local UIUC event became an international competition in 2010, with submissions being made online by college students and recent graduates from around the world. The competition has evolved a bit each year, and grew to incorporate the entire life cycle of electronics, rather than focusing solely on reuse. Organizers noticed that recent entries seemed to incorporate both prevention of e-waste generation (through design modifications to extend the useful product life cycle of electronic devices) and reuse of electronic scrap, regardless of whether or not they were submitted for the “Prevention” or “Reuse” category. So for 2013, categories have been changed to “Product” and “Non-Product,” with the concepts of prevention and reuse integrated throughout the revised judging criteria. The new name and judging criteria are part of the continuing effort to better focus the competition on ideas for a sustainable system for the design, manufacturing, use, and end-of-life management for electronics. The competition has always been open to students in any discipline, but most entries were from engineering or industrial design students. The new categories will make the multidisciplinary nature of the competition more apparent, as “non-product” entries could more obviously be made by students from other fields.
To learn more about the competition and new categories, visit www.ewaste.illinois.edu. Entries include, among other elements, a brief project description paper and YouTube video summarizing the concept. Expert jurors award cash prizes to the top three projects in each category. Registration is free and will open on September 1, 2013. For more information, contact Joy Scrogum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-333-8948.