The Retro Revive

20170914_112947After getting removed from a parent’s basement, my friend showed me the bag of retro games and consoles her parents had returned to her after years of sitting dormant. In my excitement of holding an original Game Boy, I flipped the device on only to have nothing happen. Batteries must be dead, was my natural assumption. I opened the battery compartment to find the batteries had leaked and corrosion EVERYWHERE.

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Alkaline Battery Corrosion! The HORROR!

A younger me would have said, “Well, nothing we can do with it now. We’ll have to get rid of it.” And if time travel were a thing, I might go back and give my younger self a rough shake and an education on when to declare an electronic dead.

Battery “Acid”

My younger self was told to never touch exploded batteries; “it’s acid and it will burn”. Well, it was a half-truth from my parents to keep me from playing with something potentially dangerous. Alkaline batteries don’t leak acid, they actually leak a material that registers as a base on the pH scale: potassium hydroxide.  Potassium hydroxide is a conductive solution used in alkaline batteries that can be harmful to us if the proper precautions are not taken in handling it. It’s a corrosive and can cause an itchy/burning sensation if it comes into contact with your skin, eyes, or if inhaled, so be sure to use gloves, safety glasses, and work in a well-ventilated area. Also, I wish it could go without saying, but DO NOT INGEST and wash your hands and work area after any contact with it, gloves or no.

Cleaning Alkaline Corrosion

(Please make sure you’re working with alkaline batteries before performing this cleaning method.)

When cleaning alkaline battery leaks, you want to use an acid like vinegar or lemon juice to take on the base corrosion. What you don’t want to use are other base materials to clean it like baking soda, ammonia, or bleach, you may just make things worse this way. If you’re concerned that the acid may be too strong for cleaning your device, feel free to use a 50/50 mix (equal parts) of distilled water and vinegar or distilled water and lemon juice instead.

Use a Q-tip or small brush (soft bristle toothbrushes work just fine, just don’t use it for teeth cleaning afterwards) dipped in your chosen cleaning acid to scrub off/eat away the corrosion. Wipe with a dry cloth to remove any lingering corrosive particles. Repeat as necessary and let it dry completely before trying to put new batteries in. (Recycle old batteries.)

Some devices are caked in corrosion and require a more thorough cleaning which involves taking the device apart and soaking the contacts as I had to do for this poor Game Boy.

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Taking the Game Boy apart to remove the contacts
corrosion on contacts: before and after
Before and after soaking the contacts to remove the corrosion

 

What if I can’t save it?

Corrosion is the eventual fate of all metals, whether they are corroded irreparably depends on the type of metal and the type of corrosive as well as the amount of corrosive it’s been exposed to and how long it’s been there. I don’t know how long the batteries in this device have been leaking exactly, but the corrosion had eaten through enough of the top layers of metal to pockmark it. Fortunately, it was not enough to cause it to be irreparable for this project, a good scrub allowed us to get this device up and running again.

Should the damage to your device be irreparable and replacement parts unable to be found, recycling your device is the best course of action to take. Since Illinois state law has a ban on electronics like these in landfills, you can find local recyclers that can take your devices. Nintendo also offers repair of their products and take back programs which will allow you to send your old Nintendo devices (and sometimes other companies devices) in for recycling for free. Sony also offers a version of recycling as well.

What if it’s not Alkaline Battery Corrosion?

In regards to other types of corrosion, the cleaning methods vary. Different corrosives require different techniques. Isopropyl alcohol (90% and higher) is frequently used to clean/rinse motherboards as it dries quickly, but you could also soak/rinse a board (only the board, no power source or hard drive, etc.) in distilled or de-ionized water. It’s not the water itself that causes the corrosion, but the impurities and chemicals found in the water (like fluoride and chlorine). We don’t recommend submerging the boards although it can be done, we find it a bit risky and wasteful of resources, instead we use Qtips to apply cleaner/remove corrosion and soft bristle toothbrushes for some extra scrubbing power when needed.

 

Thanks to HOBI International, Inc. for Continued Support!

We’d like to express our sincere gratitude to HOBI International, Inc. for their recent donation of $5000 to support our efforts to promote repair and extending the useful life of products here on the UIUC campus! HOBI has supported our efforts since the launch of the Illini Gadget Garage (IGG) project, providing a letter of support for our original proposal for a UI Student Sustainability Committee grant and making a previous $5000 donation.

HOBI international logo, with the letter HOBI and a lotus within the O. Below that are the words "Secure. Sustainable. Solutions."

HOBI International, Inc. is a leading mobile, IT and data center asset management provider with comprehensive and traceable solutions for device management, reverse logistics, data erasure, refurbishment and recycling, as well as compliance services. With locations in Arizona, Illinois and Texas, HOBI works with enterprises of all sizes nationwide. HOBI was founded by Cathy Hill and Craig Boswell and incorporated in the State of Illinois in 1992 as a privately held corporation. Its focus remains on the complete environmental disposition of post-consumption, manufacturing and mixed electronic surplus and scrap. The company holds R2, RIOS, ISO 14001:2004 and WBE certifications. You can learn more about them at https://hobi.com/about-hobi/.

Craig Boswell, HOBI President and Co-Founder, is a UI alum who has participated in several of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC)’s sustainable electronics efforts over the years. (ISTC coordinates the Illini Gadget Garage.) He served as a juror for the 2013 International Sustainable Electronics Competition, came to campus to present a guest lecture for the spring 2014 course ENG/TE 498: Sustainable Technology: Environmental and Social Impacts of Innovations, and was also a presenter during the 2012 ISTC Sustainability Seminar Series, speaking on design for recycling. You can view the archive of that seminar below. Craig has the unique experience of having been involved in designing electronics earlier in his career as an engineer for an electronics manufacturer. Now as someone who works in the recycling and asset management industry, he has been able to observe first-hand how design decisions impact the ability to repair or disassemble a product for material reclamation–typically by making all of that much more difficult because end-of-life management is not often considered in the design phase for electronic devices. He talks about that a little bit in the archived webinar below. It’s an important lesson which we hope UI industrial design and engineering students take to heart.

See our full list of sponsors at http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/donate/sponsors/. HOBI’s contributions have put it at the “Platinum” level of sponsorship.

If you or your organization would like to contribute to IGG’s efforts to promote repair as a viable alternative to immediate replacement of consumer goods on the UIUC campus and beyond, donations can be made at http://www.sustainelectronics.illinois.edu/SEIdonation.html. After entering an amount, you’ll be taken to the UI Foundation’s secure giving site to provide your personal and credit card information. Every little bit helps us pay hourly employees that coordinate student volunteers and day-to-day operations, cover expenses for our physical workshop and consumables, and provide special services like webinars, workshops and collection of batteries for recycling. Your donations also help us keep this educational project free for the campus and broader community. See “Our Impact” to check out what we’ve been able to accomplish so far. Your support will help our positive impact grow!

Note: Businesses mentioned above are for informational and acknowledgement purposes only, and should not be construed as endorsements by the Illini Gadget Garage, the University of Illinois, or units affiliated with this project.

Death by Design Screening, August 22 at Champaign Public Library

On Tuesday, August 22, the Illini Gadget Garage will be hosting a screening of the documentary Death by Design at the Champaign Public Library. Doors will open at 6:30 PM and the film will begin at 7:00. The film duration is 73 minutes.

The Illini Gadget Garage is a repair center that helps consumers with “do-it-together” troubleshooting and repair of minor damage and performance issues of electronics and small appliances. The project promotes repair as a means to keep products in service and out of the waste stream.

Death by Design explores the environmental and human costs of electronics, particularly considering their impacts in the design and manufacture stages, bearing in mind that many electronic devices are not built to be durable products that we use for many years. Cell phones, for example, are items that consumers change frequently, sometimes using for less than 2 years before replacing with a new model. When we analyze the effort put into, and potential negative impacts of, obtaining materials for devices through efforts like mining, the exposure to potentially harmful substances endured by laborers in manufacturing plants, and the environmental degradation and human health risks associated with informal electronics recycling practices in various parts of the word, the idea that we might see these pieces of technology as “disposable” in any way becomes particularly poignant. For more information on the film, including reviews, see http://deathbydesignfilm.com/about/ and http://bullfrogfilms.com/catalog/dbd.html. You can also check out the trailer at the end of this post.

After the film, there will be a brief discussion and Q&A session facilitated by Joy Scrogum, Sustainability Specialist from the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) and project coordinator for the Illini Gadget Garage. UI Industrial Design Professor William Bullock will also participate in the panel discussion; other panelists will be announced as they are confirmed. Professor Bullock is also an adviser for the Illini Gadget Garage project; see more about IGG advisers at http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/meet-the-advisers/.  Check the IGG web site calendar and Facebook page for room details and panelist announcements.

Admission to this public screening is FREE, but donations are suggested and appreciated to support future outreach and educational efforts of the Illini Gadget Garage. See http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/donate/donation-form/ to make an online donation and http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/ for more information on the project.

Bullfrog Films presents…DEATH BY DESIGN from Bullfrog Films on Vimeo.

Battery Recycling Progress

The Illini Gadget Garage (IGG) began collecting single-use batteries for recycling at the end of 2016, purchasing collection containers and recycling services with funds donated for outreach projects of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC). (ISTC coordinates the Illini Gadget Garage project and the IGG is the main outreach effort of SEI. Got your acronym scorecard straight? Hurray!)

During the Spring 2017 semester, we filled and sent in 2 battery collection buckets via the Battery Solutions program. Battery Solutions sends us “confirmation of reclamation” letters that include statistics so we can keep track of the impact of this service. According to our confirmation of reclamation records, here’s a break down of the batteries we’ve helped keep out of landfill thus far:

Total weight of batteries recycled: 78 lbs.
Weight by chemistry: NiCad 1 lb.; NiMH 1 lb; Zinc Carbon/Alkaline 56 lbs.; Li-ion laptop/modem 15 lbs.; Alkaline/Zinc 4 lbs.; Lithium Primary 1 lb.

To everyone who has stopped by our workshop to drop off their batteries, great work! Every pound of material we can keep out of landfills and see processed for reclamation and potential reuse is a small victory, and small victories add up.

"Fight Waste, Illini!" written in white on a dark blue rectangular shape with curved corners

Beginning in Summer 2017, we’ll be accepting BOTH single-use batteries AND rechargeable batteries via the Call2Recycle All Battery Recycling ProgramConvenience is key to recycling program success, so we’re pleased to be able to collect both types of batteries in a single bin. Acceptable materials include: Lithium Ion (Li-Ion), Small Sealed Lead Acid (SSLA/Pb), Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd), Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Nickel Zinc (Ni-Zn), Lithium Primary, Alkaline, Carbon Zinc, Button and Coin cell batteries, and all cellphones are accepted regardless of size, make, model, or age. Wet cell batteries are not accepted.

So bring by your single-use OR rechargeable batteries to our Oak St. workshop for recycling, or give them to staff at any of our campus or community pop-up repair clinics. We’ll make sure they get into the collection bin.

And if you appreciate this and other services offered by the Illini Gadget Garage, please consider making a small donation to SEI Various Donors Fund by visiting our online donation form. Just enter the amount you wish to donate, and you’ll be taken to a secure UI Foundation form that already has the proper fund name indicated. You’ll receive a tax letter from the UI Foundation, and we’ll acknowledge your gift on our Sponsors page. Thanks for helping us help our community to keep materials out of landfill!

Call2Recycle branded image listing all types of acceptable materials. Rechargeable and single-use batteries weighing 11 lbs. or less each of the following types: Lithium Ion (Li-Ion), Small Sealed Lead Acid (SSLA/Pb), Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd), Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Nickel Zinc (Ni-Zn), Lithium Primary, Alkaline, Carbon Zinc, Button and Coin cell batteries, and all cellphones are accepted regardless of size, make, model, or age. Wet cell batteries are not accepted.

 

Apple Dreams in Green

In recent news, Apple released their annual Environmental Responsibility report which highlights the things that the corporation is doing to be more “green” such as encouraging renewable energy throughout the manufacturing process and trying to create sustainable practices for the paper used in their product packaging. But perhaps the most notable mention that came from this report was the declaration that one day it would end its reliance on mining and make its products solely from recycled materials or renewable resources. This is certainly a lofty goal for Apple and one worth pursuing even if they’re not sure how to go about it or when they’ll be able to achieve it.

Apple has been dubbed one of the most environmentally friendly technology companies in the world according to Greenpeace’s Clean Energy Index, leading the way among other tech industry giants like Google and Facebook. Apple has made significant progress in being environmentally conscientious from where it was several years ago and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. However, as they continue to seek ways to benefit the environment, they do so in pushing forward in developing new technologies rather than seeking to extend the life of existing ones.

Lifespans for electronics in the industry – as a whole – are dropping; even Apple places the iPhone’s estimated lifespan at around 3 years; not terribly impressive considering its cost. Two elements which play largely into determining how long a device can be considered relevant and useful are planned obsolescence and consumerism. Planned obsolescence, where devices are designed to fail at some point so that new devices can be purchased, can be done through a variety of means such as: limiting warranty periods, ending software upgrades and product support, hardware decisions, and discontinuing the availability of repair parts.

For all of Apple’s green efforts, they clearly do not want individuals working on repairing and extending the life of their products, even going so far as to shred its old products so that salvageable parts are not resold; a method that is used to protect its brand by preventing secondhand parts from flooding the market. While the shredded remains of iPhones are sifted apart and recycled to the best of Apple’s ability, the fact remains that those components could have been put to better use in keeping another device from landing in the shredder itself.

Image of shredded electronic devices
Shredded electronic devices from a Canadian E-waste Recycling Facility (no affiliation with Apple or this article). Photo from iFixit.org. Click the image to read more.

Consumerism is the other side of the technology lifespan coin for those individuals who want to have the latest and greatest devices. As a culture, we’re far more willing to go out and purchase something new rather than attempt to repair it and the tech industry knows this and promotes it. Apple, in showing off their going green endeavors, are either consciously or unconsciously coaxing consumers into feeling less guilt about buying new models each year. Consumers enjoy feeling that their purchase is created in an environmentally friendly way and that the devices will be recycled at the end of their lifecycle, but supporting Apple’s sustainable practices is negated by buying a brand-new phone each year when the old one worked just fine. In fact, studies have been done that show the availability of recycling as an option can lead to an increase in resource usage.

While recycling is a good alternative to throwing things away, prolonging the useful life of a product is far better. There’s a reason that Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is presented in that order.

Local (Champaign-Urbana) Repair Guide

We know that even “do-it-together” repair can be intimidating for some people, or maybe you just don’t have the time in your busy schedule currently to come in and participate in the repair of your device. We understand, but want you to still consider repair before replacement of your device. Also, there are times when a client comes in for assistance and we find that the problem with their device is beyond our abilities at the Illini Gadget Garage, but we still believe the item in question can be repaired. For these types of instances, we have composed a list of local repair shops, and posted it on our website under the “Repair” tab. You can either access a spreadsheet that list addresses, contact information, hours, and the types of devices serviced, or a map that shows their physical locations.

Be aware that you will not find chains like Best Buy or Dick Van Dyke listed. This is because they mainly specialize in servicing products that were bought on their premises–plus we know you’re probably already aware of those options for service. If your merchandise is currently covered by a warranty policy, we fully encourage you to take it the location from where it was purchased. We just want you to know that the main focus of the resources we provide is to guide you to shops that specialize in repair no matter where or how long ago an item was purchased.

We also want to be clear–the Illini Gadget Garage does NOT endorse any of the listed businesses. This list is provided for information purposes only, to help those who come to us for assistance to find additional services they require. We do not refer clients to specific businesses; we merely provide the names of companies that can service the device in question. The decision as to which, if any, of the local shops you go to, is yours as a consumer.

What if your device can’t be repaired? Don’t worry–we can help you with that too. Check out our “Recycle” page at http://wp.istc.illinois.edu/ilgadgetgarage/recycle/. That page includes a link to the Champaign County Electronics Recycling guide, which lists local electronics recyclers, and provides links to the Illinois EPA Service Locator page and other relevant information on the electronics landfill ban in Illinois.

Have other questions? Have a suggestion for a local repair shop to add to our list? Send us a note at illinigadgetgarage@gmail.com.