NASA Invests in Innovative Concepts, Including Electronic-recycling Microbes

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently announced that 13 proposals had been selected for funding as part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which “invests in transformative architectures through the development of pioneering technologies.” According to the press release, “NIAC Phase I awards are valued at approximately $100,000 for nine months, to support initial definition and analysis of their concepts. If these basic feasibility studies are successful, awardees can apply for Phase II awards, valued up to $500,000 for two additional years of concept development.” Read the full press release on the NASA web site.

Among the funded proposals is a concept entitled Urban bio-mining meets printable electronics: end-to-end at destination biological recycling and reprinting,” submitted by Lynn Rothschild, NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. The project description states:

“Space missions rely utterly on metallic components, from the spacecraft to electronics. Yet, metals add mass, and electronics have the additional problem of a limited lifespan. Thus, current mission architectures must compensate for replacement. In space, spent electronics are discarded; on earth, there is some recycling but current processes are toxic and environmentally hazardous. Imagine instead an end-to-end recycling of spent electronics at low mass, low cost, room temperature, and in a non-toxic manner. Here, we propose a solution that will not only enhance mission success by decreasing upmass and providing a fresh supply of electronics, but in addition has immediate applications to a serious environmental issue on the Earth. Spent electronics will be used as feedstock to make fresh electronic components, a process we will accomplish with so-called ‘urban biomining’ using synthetically enhanced microbes to bind metals with elemental specificity. To create new electronics, the microbes will be used as ‘bioink’ to print a new IC chip, using plasma jet electronics printing. The plasma jet electronics printing technology will have the potential to use martian atmospheric gas to print and to tailor the electronic and chemical properties of the materials. Our preliminary results have suggested that this process also serves as a purification step to enhance the proportion of metals in the ‘bioink’. The presence of electric field and plasma can ensure printing in microgravity environment while also providing material morphology and electronic structure tunabiity and thus optimization. Here we propose to increase the TRL level of the concept by engineering microbes to dissolve the siliceous matrix in the IC, extract copper from a mixture of metals, and use the microbes as feedstock to print interconnects using mars gas simulant. To assess the ability of this concept to influence mission architecture, we will do an analysis of the infrastructure required to execute this concept on Mars, and additional opportunities it could offer mission design from the biological and printing technologies. In addition, we will do an analysis of the impact of this technology for terrestrial applications addressing in particular environmental concerns and availability of metals.”

Note that “TRL” refers to “Technology Readiness Level,” a measure of the technological maturity of a concept, indicative of the degree to which it has developed beyond the initial faults and unforeseen problems that inevitably arise when something theoretical is brought into practice. NASA TRL definitions help characterize whether a concept is ready for use in space flight during missions or has been “flight proven” as part of successful missions.

Printable Electronics
Graphic depiction of printable electronics, from concept description on NASA web site.

Though the idea is geared toward making missions to Mars more practical in terms of the weight of materials needed to pack for missions and dealing with the lack of a local repair shop in the event of a device breakdown, the concept–if successful–could have obvious positive impacts on sustainable electronic product design and responsible management of the ever-growing stream of discarded electronics here on Earth. This could end up becoming one more example of how technology developed to enable space exploration could have benefits to humans in their everyday terrestrial lives. NASA has published an annual accounting of such technologies called “Spinoff” since 1976.

For more information on the NIAC program, visit https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/niac/index.html. For more information on technological “spinoffs”  from space exploration which improve life on Earth, see the press release for the 2016 edition of Spinoff, and the official NASA Spinoff web site.

Illini Gadget Garage Update & Upcoming Consortium Meeting

At the beginning of the fall 2015 semester, the UI Sustainable Electronics Campus Consortium met to discuss the Illini Gadget Garage project, which had received funding from the Student Sustainability Committee. The Illini Gadget Garage is a collaboration of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, the UI School of Art and Design, and the UI Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and is focused on launching a repair center for student and staff owned electronic devices. This venture is meant to extend the useful life of products while providing experiential learning for students (through associated classes, volunteering, and participation in the iFixit Technical Writing Project), and empowering people to see do-it-yourself repair as a viable option for addressing minor damage and performance issues. You can read more about the project on the SEI web site, as well as a summary of the previous consortium meeting on the topic.

Classes are underway

ISTC was granted the use of Storage Building #3 by its sister survey, the Illinois Natural History Survey, and the Prairie Research Institute, to house the Illini Gadget Garage. The space is well suited to the purpose, and two classes taught by project team member Martin Wolske are currently meeting in the space (Intro to Network Systems plus Informal Learning Spaces and Pedagogies). A course taught by team member William Bullock this semester has student teams working on various operational aspects of the Illini Gadget Garage, including development of a stand alone web site, development of an identifying mark and signage, design of tool kits and storage, envisioning the layout of the space, and working on a business plan for the future financial self-sustainability of the project. At the end of the semester, student concepts will be compiled into a book for the project team for consideration, further development, and use moving forward. Students in both Professors Bullock’s and Wolske’s classes are creating online repair guides as part of the iFixit Technical Writing Project, continuing UIUC participation, which began in 2014. (iFixit has also donated over $2000 worth of tools for use in the Gadget Garage.)

Tentative Illini Gadget Garage identifying mark
Identifying mark developed by Lu Lawrence, Amanda Henderson, and Ruchita Mandhre, as part of ARTD 591/391 with Professor William Bullock.

Space–the final frontier

Storage Building #3 has proved desirable in many ways, but as the project team worked with INHS staff, Facilities & Services, and other campus units to clear, rearrange, and upgrade the space for its new purpose, we discovered that it is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The space had previously been used as an office/lab area, and such spaces are not required to have particular types of entryways, parking, etc., as long as no one working there requires such accommodations. However, in order to open the Gadget Garage to the public, it became clear that several upgrades were necessary, including pouring an accessible parking space, a sidewalk from a nearby curb cut, creation of a new doorway closer to the planned accessible parking, and some other minor interior changes. At first our project team saw this as a minor delay; we would continue to entertain “test pilot” clientele without need for accommodation in the space and plan to renovate before winter for a grand opening for everyone once upgrades were complete. Unfortunately, estimates for all of the work required came in at over $32,000–much more than we had anticipated, and which was available to us in the SSC grant and matching funds for space considerations. By the end of October 2015, it was clear that we needed to regroup.

Plan B: Test pilots needed and ‘pop-up’ clinics planned

Because classes are already meeting in the space, and because we need somewhere to store tools and equipment already obtained, our project team has arranged with INHS to continue using Storage Building #3 as a base of operations. In the meantime, we plan to continue working with “test pilots” in this space, so student volunteers can gain experience with working with the public, checking in patrons, and logging impacts (e.g. number of devices repaired, pounds diverted from the landfill through repair, etc.). So if ADA accommodations are not something you require and you have a device that needs repair, please do visit the Illini Gadget Garage during open hours (see http://www.sustainelectronics.illinois.edu/research/gadgetgarage.cfm for more information). To ensure that all members of our campus community can benefit from and participate in the Gadget Garage, we’re planning to host “pop-up” repair clinics at various locations around campus which are already accessible. The first clinic of this kind is scheduled for December 1 at the PAR library (more details to come soon; thanks to Bradley Irwin, Graduate Research Assistant, and Residence Hall Library Graduate Assistants Hailley Fargo and Cameron Riesenberger for arranging this!). Our project team will identify other locations for such clinics, and work to raise funds for the renovation of Storage Building #3 through donations and other grants. We’re happy to report that we recently received a donation of $5000 from HOBI International, which is a great start toward making the necessary upgrades!

How you can help

  • Join us at the next UI Sustainable Electronics Campus Consortium meeting, at ISTC from 2:00 – 3:00 PM, Tuesday, November 17, 2015.
  • Bring ideas for “pop-up” locations, fundraising, and even alternative spaces (we love SB#3, but if you know of an alternative space that is already accessible, we’d like to hear about it).
  • If you can’t come to the consortium meeting on 11/17, but have ideas as described above, contact Joy Scrogum.
  • If you’d like to volunteer at a “pop-up” clinic or at the Gadget Garage itself, contact Martin Wolske or Brad Irwin.
  • Bring in a device for collaborative repair during open hours at Storage Builidng #3 (Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays from 2 to 6 p.m.), to give our repair crew some practice (and hopefully breathe new life into your gadget!).
  • Donate to the SEI Various Donors Fund, and specify “Illini Gadget Garage” in the “Comments or Other Instructions” field on the online donation form. Small donations add up! You or your organization will be recognized on the SEI web site, the stand alone Gadget Garage site (once it’s up and running), and receive an acknowledgement from both SEI and the UI Foundation. If you prefer to donate by check rather than via the online form, contact Joy Scrogum for instructions.

The tagline being used currently on signage at SB#3 is “Illini Gadget Garage: Repairing & Demystifying Technology for a More Just and Sustainable World.” Our campus community is working together to make this a reality. Join the campus consortium on 11/17 to be a part of it!

Reminder: Manuscripts for Special Edition of Challenges Due 12/31/15

challenges-logoManuscripts are still being accepted for the special issue of the journal Challenges, entitled “Electronic Waste–Impact, Policy and Green Design.” 

From the issue’s rationale:

“Electronics are at the heart of an economic system that has brought many out of poverty and enhanced quality of life. In Western society in particular, our livelihoods, health, safety, and well being are positively impacted by electronics. However, there is growing evidence that our disposal of electronics is causing irreparable damage to the planet and to human health, as well as fueling social conflict and violence.

While global demand for these modern gadgets is increasing, policy to handle the increased volumes of electronic waste has not kept pace. International policy governing safe transfer, disposal, reclamation, and reuse of electronic waste is nonexistent or woefully lacking. Where laws do exist about exporting and importing hazardous waste, they are routinely circumvented and enforcement is spotty at best. While European Union countries lead the way in responsible recycling of electronic and electrical devices under various EU directives, most industrialized nations do not have such policies. In the U.S., for example, most electronic waste is still discarded in landfills or ground up for scrap.

It is imperative that we consider how green design practices can address the growing electronic waste problem. This special issue is meant to do just that and spur discussions on how electronic products can become greener and more sustainable.”

If you are interested in submitting a paper for this special issue, please send a title and short abstract (about 100 words) to the Challenges Editorial Office at challenges@mdpi.com, indicating the special issue for which it is to be considered. If the proposal is considered appropriate for the issue, you will be asked to submit a full paper. Complete instructions for authors and an online submission form for the completed manuscripts are available on the Challenges web site at http://www.mdpi.com/journal/challenges/special_issues/electronic-waste#info. The deadline for manuscript submissions is December 31, 2015. Questions may be addressed to co-guest editor Joy Scrogum.

Smartphone Encore Challenge Winners Announced; UIUC Team Runners Up

In a previous post, I promoted a webinar hosted by Net Impact in which the winners of the Smartphone Encore Challenge would be announced, along with an overview of closed-loop strategies at Sprint. You can watch the archived webinar at https://netimpact.org/webinars/the-circular-economy-is-calling-closing-the-loop-in-the-smartphone-industry. (Note that the quality of the video for the winning concept was poor during the webinar; you can view the video separately at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjYyW4i7OS8.) The Challenge was sponsored by Sprint, HOBI International, Brightstar, and Net Impact, and asked students to find profitable and innovative ways to repurpose old smartphones or their components. Participation was limited to the first 25 teams to register. Read more about the Challenge at https://netimpact.org/impact-programs/smartphone-encore-challenge.

SECwinners

I’m pleased that a concept submitted by UIUC students, NEO, was a runner up in the competition. NEO involves the reuse of smartphones as low-cost computers for teaching programming to kids, thus addressing e-waste, digital divide, and education issues simultaneously. This innovative idea was created by Elizabeth Reuter, Kevin Lehtiniitty, and Biplab Deka.

The students came up with this concept for their final project in ENG/TE 498 “Sustainable Technology: Environmental and Social Impacts of Innovations,” which I taught in collaboration with Dr. Brian Lilly and Kirsten Walker in spring 2014. For their final class project, students could either prepare a repair guide for iFixit.com, or create a mock entry for the International Sustainable Electronics Competition, a global student competition administered by SEI which ended in 2013.  The video below was prepared as part of that class project.

The winning concept from students at UC Berkeley, TouchCart, involves using old cellphones to make finding items easier in grocery stores while also allowing scanning of items during shopping. It also allows connection to customer service, and quick check out. The other runners up, StreetSmart from Ohio State University, involves used cellphones as in-car technology to help track driving habits. This would allow insurance companies to more easily reward safe drivers with lower rates. The winning team received $5,000, which can be used toward attending a Startup Weekend to help take their business idea to the next level. And they’ll also receive strategic guidance from executives at Sprint, Brightstar, and HOBI to strengthen the team’s business model.

Despite not winning this particular competition, Team NEO is participating in other student competitions to raise funds to bring this worthy concept to reality. Join me in wishing them all the best in these pursuits, and congratulations for their achievements thus far.

 

Smartphone Encore Challenge Finalists to be Announced in Earth Day Webinar

smartphone-encore-challenge-logo-v02In a previous post, I wrote about a new electronics-related competition debuted this year: the Smartphone Encore Challenge. The Challenge is a collaboration of Sprint, HOBI International, Brightstar, and Net Impact in which student teams were challenged to find profitable and innovative ways to repurpose old smartphones or their components. Participation was limited to the first 25 teams or individuals to register.

The winning individual or team will receive $5,000, which can be used toward attending a Startup Weekend to help take their business idea to the next level. The winners will also receive strategic guidance from executives at Sprint, Brightstar, and HOBI to strengthen their business model.

Tomorrow, April 22, 2015–Earth Day–Net Impact will present an “Issues in Depth” webinar, featuring the concepts of the winners of the Smartphone Encore Challenge and two runners-up. The webinar, entitled “The Circular Economy is Calling: Closing the Loop in the Smartphone Industry,” will also feature Darren Beck, Director of Environmental Initiatives at Sprint, who will share the successes and challenges of applying closed-loop strategies to Sprint’s business. The webinar begins at 11:00 CDT and you can register online at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6002673046428866561.

I can’t wait to see what the winning students have come up with! For more inspiring sustainable electronics ideas from college and university students, visit the Sustainable Electronics Initiative YouTube channel, where you can find winning entry videos from past years of the SEI International Sustainable Electronics Competition.

Webinar, Nov. 18: Introduction to the State Electronics Challenge

SEC LogoOn November 18, 2014 from 2:00-3:00 PM CST, SEI and the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR) are co-sponsoring a webinar, “Introduction to the State Electronics Challenge.”

Join Lynn Rubinstein from the State Electronics Challenge to learn how your organization can reduce its environmental footprint through improved management of electronic office equipment.

The State Electronics Challenge (SEC) is a voluntary national program, free of charge, and open to any state, tribal, regional, or local government agency, as well as any K-12 school or non-profit organization. The SEC promotes environmental stewardship of computers, monitors, and imaging equipment — from purchasing green office equipment through power management, paper use reduction, and responsible end-of-life management — resulting in measurable reductions in energy, greenhouse gases, solid and hazardous waste, and associated costs.

Attend this introductory webinar to learn how your organization can join the Challenge and benefit from the program’s proven free technical assistance, action plan, implementation tools, and environmental benefit calculations.

To register for this webinar, visit https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/414238999. After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

System Requirements
PC-based attendees
Required: Windows® 8, 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server

Mac®-based attendees
Required: Mac OS® X 10.6 or newer

Mobile attendees
Required: iPhone®, iPad®, Android™ phone or Android tablet

 

 

Champaign-Urbana ReStore No Longer Accepting CRT Monitors

Champaign County Habitat for Humanity LogoFolks in the Champaign-Urbana, IL area, please note that the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore no longer accepts cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions and monitors. According to a ReStore representative:

“As of October 15, we no longer accept Televisions and Computer monitors (non-working) for recycling. At our discretion, we may accept fully-functioning television sets  larger than 32 inches in diagonal screen measure, depending mostly on the space we have available to display and show the working condition of those units. We do not accept Console (cabinet) televisions or rear-projection units of any size. We continue to accept all non-CRT electronics such as keyboards, printers, fax machines and the like, working or not, for recycling.”

The Champaign County Electronics Recycling/Reuse Guide has been updated accordingly. See http://www.co.champaign.il.us/county%20RRR/recycle/recycleelectronics.pdf for information on where CRTs are still accepted locally, as well as where other electronic devices can be recycled.

5 Source Reduction Tips for Electronics Consumers

In case you missed it, this post, written by Joy Scrogum, was originally published on the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR) blog, as part of a series of posts in honor of Pollution Prevention Week during the third week in September.

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.

Champaign County Options for Electronics Recycling & Reuse

Pile of abandoned computers and monitors in empty school classroom.If you’re like most people, you probably have an old computer, laptop, or TV stashed in your basement, closet, or garage. It’s important to recycle these devices responsibly, as they contain both valuable materials (e.g. gold, copper, rare earth elements, etc.) and substances that could cause human and environmental health problems if improperly handled during disposal (e.g. lead, mercury, flame retardants, etc.). In fact, it’s against Illinois state law to dispose of certain electronics in landfills, so these items cannot be put in your household trash. To learn more about the Illinois Electronic Products Recycling & Reuse Act, see the Illinois EPA web site and the full text of the legislation at http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/95/SB/PDF/09500SB2313lv.pdf.

Where to take your stuff

Residents of Champaign County, IL are lucky to have multiple options for recycling of unwanted electronics. See the Champaign County Electronics Recycling Guide for the names and locations of local businesses that offer electronics recycling year-round, complete with contact information and any restrictions that apply.

Note that there are two local businesses, Best Buy at 2117 N. Prospect and Habitat ReStore at 119 E. University Avenue, which accept old cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions and computer monitors. Best Buy accepts up to 3 TVs per household per day in store for free, provided screens are less than 32 inches in diameter. For CRT TVs over 32 inches and flat panels over 60 inches, Best Buy will haul the devices away from a customer’s home for free, only if they purchase a new TV from Best Buy. If a purchase from Best Buy is not made, the recycling service is still available, but for a $100 fee. Habitat ReStore accepts televisions or CRT monitors if a voucher is purchased for in-store use at a cost ranging from $10 to $50 per television or CRT monitor recycled, depending on size. (Goodwill will accept only flat screen TVs that are in good working order.) See the Champaign County Electronics Recycling Guide for complete details. Recycling of CRT TVs and computer monitors is becoming more difficult. Susan Monte, Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, explains some of the reasons that electronics recyclers have stopped accepting TVs or tube monitors. “In Illinois, the statewide system for recycling and/or reuse of electronics items discarded from residences requires electronic manufacturers doing business in Illinois to participate in ‘end-of-life’ management of these electronic products. At this time, electronics manufacturers have met their pre-established quotas for pounds of electronics to recycle/reuse for the fiscal year, and they have stopped paying electronics recycling companies to recycle electronics items.” Televisions and cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors comprise nearly half of the electronics items brought to the residential collections. Expenses incurred by electronics recycling contractors to responsibly recycle televisions and CRT monitors far outweigh revenue.  In fact, Champaign County had planned to host an electronics recycling collection events for residents on October 11, 2014, but that event has been canceled because of the cost issue for the recycling contractor now that the manufacturer quota has been met. Monte says, “If electronics manufacturers doing business in Illinois continue to meet early quotas for pounds of electronics items collected, we may potentially plan for one or two Countywide Residential Electronics Collections to take place in the Champaign-Urbana area next spring.”  Be sure to check the county recycling guide to see if dates of upcoming events have been added (if so, they’ll be featured at the top of the document); alternatively you can always call the Champaign County Regional Planning Commission at 217-328-3313.

For information on battery recycling, check ISTC’s Battery Recycling LibGuide at http://uiuc.libguides.com/battery-recycling/cu.

For fluorescent lamps and CFLs, see the City of Urbana”Where Do I Recycle It?” page at http://urbanaillinois.us/residents/recycling-program-u-cycle/where-do-i-take-it and the City of Champaign Recycling guide at http://ci.champaign.il.us/cms/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/Recycle-guide.pdf. Alternatively, you can order pre-paid mail kits (options for both CFLs & tubes) from

Can you repair devices or pass them on?

If your unwanted electronics still function please consider passing them on to friends or relatives, or donating them to an appropriate charity. If they have minor flaws or damage, check the iFixit web site to see if there are repair guides that you can follow to return get your device running again. (Yes, you can do it! I’ve had students work on iFixit guides as class projects. You don’t need to be a tech expert to repair something you own!) It’s important to extend the useful life of electronic devices for as long as possible before recycling them, because of the huge investment of human and natural resources that go into their manufacture in the first place. For example, did you know that the majority of energy used in the life cycle of a computer is in its production, not in the time it’s used by a consumer? (See http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=1299692&tag=1 and http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652611000801 for research on this subject.)

When in doubt, give Joy a shout

So be on the look out for county electronics collection events in the future, and in the meantime, check out the local business in the county recycling guide to avoid the lines. And if your device is unwanted rather than broken, or only slightly damaged, consider giving it a new home or repairing it before it’s sent for recycling. If you aren’t sure where or if you can recycle a device, you can also contact me at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center. I’ll help steer you in the right direction.

Many thanks to Susan Monte for the update on the county collection event and for the county’s press release, from which her quotes are taken. Mentions of businesses in this post are for information only and should not be construed as endorsements.

Kill Switch Info Added to U.S. State & Local Legislation Page

In my last post, I noted some updates that had been made to the U.S. Federal Legislation page on the SEI web site, including information on the debate surrounding cell phone kill switches (scroll down to “Legislation and Policies that Apply to Electronics in Other Life-cycle Stages”).

I’ve added information on the two current State laws requiring cell phone kill switches to the U.S. State & Local Legislation page. Minnesota was the first to pass such a law, in May 2014, and California just became the second a few days ago. Both laws will go into effect on July 1, 2015.

A kill switch is a means to render a device inoperable if stolen, the idea being that such a function would reduce the rising problem of cell phone theft. Pressure for such legislation has been on the rise as reports of violence tied to cell phone theft have increased and received media attention. Similar, voluntarily implemented functions have been previously made available by some manufacturers, leading some to say that legislation is unnecessary. Concern has also been expressed by opponents about whether such disabling technology could be used with ill intent with the manipulation of hackers, the example of law enforcement officers having their phones rendered inoperable in a crisis being offered as a worst case scenario.

As I point out on SEI’s federal legislation page, one potential outcome of proposed kill switch technology often ignored by the media and general public is the exacerbation of the growing e-waste problem. Kill switches are meant to render a device completely inoperable so that thieves could not reinstate the device’s capabilities. This means a perfectly functioning phone would be rendered useless, except as fodder for recycling and materials reclamation. That in itself has lead some to argue that kill switch legislation won’t work to thwart crime–as long as there’s some value, however minimal, for the materials included in what would then be an expensive paperweight, someone will be willing to steal the device, those with this viewpoint claim. For me, however, the broader issue has been the discouragement of reuse. Lots of materials and energy go into creation of our electronics–much more energy, for example, is expended in the manufacturing of electronics than is expended in their use. From a lifecycle perspective, it’s particularly important to extend the useful life of these devices. Would kill switch legislation, which may or may not end up discouraging crime, end up making it more difficult for useful products to be used to the full extent possible, I’ve wondered? What if someone misplaced their phone, had it deactivated, and then found it or had it returned by a Good Samaritan–only to find it useless? What if the authorities apprehended a thief and were able to retrieve and return a phone, again, only to leave the owner to the task of responsibly recycling and replacing it?

The encouraging thing about California’s legislation is that it requires that the “technological solution” to rendering the device inoperable upon theft be reversible, “so that if an authorized user obtains possession of the smartphone after the essential features of the smartphone have been rendered inoperable, the operation of those essential features can be restored by an authorized user.” How all of that will work, and work smoothly, remains to be seen. But this shows that legislators have heard concerns like the ones I expressed above from others, as well as arguments regarding hackers and terrorism, no matter how far fetched those might actually be, and have put some thought into countering unintended consequences.

At the end of the day, that’s what sustainability is really all about–trying to avoid and mitigate the unintended consequences of our actions and choices.