Dave Hakkens, creator of Phonebloks, went to the most infamous landfill and scrap site in the world: Agbogbloshie, which is repeatedly labeled as ground-zero for e-waste by press. The reality on the ground is more complex. Agbogbloshie isn’t just a burning e-wasteland—it’s a community of about 40,000 people. There are schools, homes, community centers, an onion market, scrappers, repair shops, and markets for used goods. So while Hakkens went to investigate e-waste, he found so much more.
According to a new EPA report, Americans increased their overall production of municipal waste in 2013 to 254 million tons of waste—or 4.4 pounds per person per day. But e-waste was one of the few categories where recycling rates increased significantly—by ten percentage points in just one year. So, good job everyone: fewer electronics are winding up in the trash heaps. But we’re not done yet. Recycling is just one piece of the larger moving puzzle that is sustainable resource management.
The federal government just dropped EPEAT from its green electronics standards. The policy change—made without warning—was part of an updated executive order issued last month, which simply omitted EPEAT from the government’s previous language. When it comes to evaluating a device’s effect on the environment, EPEAT is the gold standard. The tool ranks products as either Gold, Silver, or Bronze—depending on adherence to a set of green criteria. No word if another standard will take its place.
Just how much e-waste is piling it up around the globe? A new infographic from CustomMade breaks down the good, the bad, and the deadly. According to CustomMade, “the global volume of refrigerators, TVs, cellphones, computers, monitors, and other electronic waste will weigh almost as much as 200 Empire State Buildings”—evidence that our existing “out of sight, out of mind” mentality really isn’t a viable long-term option when it comes to e-waste.
In yet another fascinating episode of “Yeah science, bitch!,” it turns out that salmon semen is good for more than just making more salmon. Aside from being a delicacy in Japan, fish sperm (also known as milt) could just be the future of rare earth element (REE) recycling. Milt might make it possible to recover REEs from discarded electronics. Ain’t life stranger than fiction?
What does it take to turn the lights on in poverty-stricken, rural communities? According to a group of researchers from IBM, the solution just might be e-waste. And they’re proving it by turning old laptop batteries into new, low-cost lights that can power homes and shops in the developing world. They are calling the project UrJar—and, sold cheaply, they hope UrJar will light up the world.
Christmas is the high-water mark of new stuff—and a lot of that new stuff is going to be electronic. As Wired’s Christina Bonnington pointed out yesterday, the mounting influx of shiny, thin devices is an environmental catastrophe just waiting to happen. E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world. If we’ve got any shot at meeting the e-waste challenge head-on, manufacturers are going to have to start giving a product’s end-of-life a lot more consideration.
I watch as workers at BMW’s Recycling and Dismantling Centre fish around for an alternator under the hood of what must have been a mid-sized sedan—except this car doesn’t have a hood anymore. In fact, this car doesn’t have much of anything anymore. Its skeletal remains picked clean of most detachable components, this car is one of about 6,000 BMWs recycled at the centre every year—just a tiny fraction of what BMW actually manufactures every single year. So why isn’t BMW recycling more?
Dell’s products have consistently impressed us with their modularity and repairability. Time and time again, Dell’s products have scored well on our teardown table. The Dell XPS 10 even tops the list of our most repairable tablets, earning a 9/10 for repairability. Now the recycling industry has independently verified iFixit’s findings. The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) just announced Dell Inc. as the recipient of its 2014 Design for Recycling (DFR) Award.
Reuse just got one more advocate: Pope Francis. The newly instated Pope, who has long been an activist for the world’s poor, recently commended the efforts of the world’s “cartoneros”—informal waste pickers who sort through local dumps for items to salvage, reuse, or recycle. It’s dirty, hard, and sometimes dangerous work. Cartoneros are exposed to a slew of toxic materials and environmental pollutants. And we’re glad to see that someone is giving these men and women the respect they deserve.