Computers arrive at The Exploration Station because they’ve outlived their usefulness. Some unwanted, used computers are donated to the program by local families and businesses. Others come to the facility as e-waste. Behind the building, volunteers welcome people with drop-offs and sort through the cast-off electronics. Over the last 14 years, this group of dedicated volunteers has refurbished the cast-offs and given out almost 4,000 computers to their community.
E-waste is a tricky problem in part because of its complexity: for a computer to end up in the infamous Ghana dump site Agbogbloshie, it has to pass through hundreds of hands, from assembly line workers, to retail salespeople, to users, to exporters, to scavengers. The problem can be overwhelmingly abstract, but documentaries make it more real and immediate. Terra Blight, a recently released independent documentary film, gives the problem a human face and unravels some of its complexities.
Electronic waste contains 40-50 times the amount of gold in ore mined from the ground, according to a report last week by the Global e-Sustainability Initiative and the United Nations University. According to the report, between 2001 and 2011, the electronics industry as a whole went from using 197 to 320 tons of gold. Nevertheless, no more than 15% of the gold in e-waste is being recovered in recycling processes.
Kyle spoke this week at a U.S. International Trade Commission hearing on used electronics exports. The hearing will be an important source for a USITC study for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office. In his testimony, Kyle stressed the importance of repair worldwide.
MBAonline.com recently published an infographic called “The True Cost of an iPhone,” about the iPhone’s supply chain and end-of-life. Though it’s considerably more comprehensive than many others about e-waste, it suffers from some of the same problems: numbers about e-waste are unreliable, unverifiable, and often outdated. The infographic form glosses over that complexity and makes the numbers seem much more solid than they are.
Can you figure out how to track electronic waste as it moves downstream, from electronics recyclers to its final location in waste sites, scrap markets, or remanufacturing plants? Popular Science and InnoCentive’s latest Innovation Challenge offers a reward of up to $10,000 for the best scalable system to track electronic waste.
In a Tekzilla interview, Kyle chatted with Patrick Norton about why repairability of the iPad is important for the world. He outlines some of the complexities of the e-waste issue: on the one hand, shipping used electronic goods to Africa means that the components may be recycled dangerously. But those used goods also create jobs.
When you donate a phone to Cell Phones for Soldiers, or Sprint Project Connect, or The March of Dimes, it will end up at the Recellular warehouse. I sat down with Recellular founder Chuck Newman this week to discuss some of the larger issues surrounding cell phones.The real challenge is getting phones from people that are done with them to the people that need them, and Recellular is more effective at that than just about any other organization.
Right outside the Ghana electronics scrapyard Agbogbloshie, our car was approached by a young man selling refurbished TV remotes. This is a side of Agbogbloshie you don’t see as often as pictures of young boys burning electronics. Many jobs are born out of those piles of discarded electronics—this man had to collect these remotes, repair and clean them, and now he can put food on the table by selling them. Is Agbogbloshie just a dump?
Servers were the size of refrigerators and a single CPU chip had about $300 of gold when Montreal-based electronics recycling company FCM Recycling started harvesting precious metals from computers’ circuit boards and memory. Last week, I chatted with FCM representatives Chris and Andrew about the the work they’re doing and the e-waste climate in Canada.
Last Friday, the UN’s E-waste Africa Program reported findings from studies in 5 African countries (Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, and Nigeria) over the last 3 years. Poor African countries are not just helpless, unwitting victims of wealthier countries’ electronic trash. Africa, like the rest of the world, has been catapulted into the information age—compared to 10 years ago, 10 times as many Africans have personal computers, and 100 times as many have mobile phones.
On a Delhi street, a group of men load a pile of power supply units and optical drives into a truck to take them for recycling. We took this photo in Seelampur, home to the largest electronics scrap market in India. 80,000 people in India work in the informal e-waste recycling sector. Even this close to the end-of-life for these PSUs, it’s very difficult to tell whether or not they’ll be disassembled responsibly.