One Student's Experience with Electronic Waste

Amy Cade, June 2009

Most of you have probably had to deal with an old TV or computer before. When your hard drive crashed or when you needed to update from that ugly tan box taking up your entire desk you probably ran into the trouble of figuring out what to do with the old TV or computer.  I might have a different experience with electronic waste or “e-waste” then most.

I grew up with a “fix it” dad. You had a problem; dad would know what to do. For instance, my grandparents hated the pebbles that fell to the bottom of their pool. No problem; “Kids,” he’d say “its $.10 per pebble, $.20 for the really big ones.” I made a killing those summers.  When my dad learned of people’s problem of not knowing what to do with their old electronics he seemed to have no trouble finding the solution. Students of Chicago Public Schools needed computers and people had working or nearly working computers that they did not want anymore. I was 7 years old when my dad, Willie Cade, turned this into a business. He took unwanted computers, fixed them up and provided them to houses of at risk children. At the time, this just meant prospective giant fortresses of e-waste in my basement.

In high school I grew an inclination towards art but I still had aspects of my father’s love of science and technology. So in college, I decided to major in Industrial Design and Painting. Industrial designers–people that are in charge of making sleeker shoes and fancier blenders–can be considered a big proponent of the production of useless stuff which just contributes more waste to the world. But more recently, industrial designers can also be seen as friends of the environment; they can design things that use better materials, produce less waste during the manufacturing or use stages, or can be disassembled easily and without harm to the environment or sometimes even benefitting the environment. gDiapers, for instance, are flushable and compostable diapers so instead of sending diapers to landfills, you can turn the waste into biosolids. This is the type of design I am interested in.

During my junior year of college I introduced my Industrial Design professor, William Bullock, to my dad so that they could collaborate on solutions to e-waste. They came up with an idea to make a competition for students to design things using old computer parts. First, they wanted a class to figure out background information on the topic. So fall of my senior year I, along with 3 other students, researched e-waste internationally, nationally, and locally to see how big of a problem it was. We found that e-waste is a huge problem at all levels. We surveyed a couple buildings on campus and found rooms full of old computers that no one quite knew what to do with.

In the spring of my senior year I was in the second part of the e-waste class, this time with about 20 other students. In this class we surveyed other recyclers, heard presentations from various e-waste or design experts, and towards the very end of the semester held an e-waste competition. The competition was better than I could have ever imagined. It was held on the University of Illinois main quad on a beautiful day, there were a lot of interested students walking by, there were plenty of great ideas and astonishing presentations from the 21 design teams, and there were 6 prizes that consisted of thousands of dollars in scholarships. There were designs for kiosks, super computers, digital projectors that could be adapted to any low tech classroom, and even things like housing for plants and recycling stations. The competition gave me great hope for the future of e-waste. (For more information on the competition, along with links to press coverage and photos, see the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center web site.)

Now I am working at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center which is part of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. My job is to search for information about what the problems are related to e-waste and what is already being done about it. Some days I am more optimistic than others but overall I feel like this problem will get better.

In the coming weeks I’ll write more about my experiences in Professor Bullock’s class, providing tips for how to host an e-waste collection event. I’ll also be interviewing my dad, Willie Cade, to present more about e-waste issues from the perspective of a recycler/refurbisher and William Bullock to hear about his take on e-waste from the industrial design perspective.

Diigo Digest, 6-26-09: Television Waste

E-Waste is more relevant an issue than ever in this country. The switch from analog to digital cable two weeks ago and Governor Rick Perry’s (Texas) veto of the extended producer responsibility bill (HB 821) one week ago made for a lot of recent discussion about what to do with those old television sets. Massachusetts, Georgia, Missouri, and Oklahoma, among others, reported on solutions to the problem of left-over TVs. Willie Cade of PC Rebuilders and Recyclers says in a report by NBC Chicago that Illinoisans should hold on to their old television sets until next year Jan. 1st, when the extended producer responsibility act for Illinois is enacted. Many are shocked and saddened that Texas won’t have that option due to Governor Perry’s veto. You can view the reasons for the veto according to the governor’s office at: http://governor.state.tx.us/news/veto/12608. The reason for the shock is that the extended produced responsibility is already very popular among many other states.  It can encourage manufacturers to design with the product’s end of life in mind so that they, the manufacturers, have financial incentive not to have to deal with as much waste down the road.  For more information and opinions on HB 821 turn to the Houston Chronical’s arcticle, “Tube TVs by the Ton”, and the reader comments.

For more info on this issue and other E-Waste topics head to my Diigo Page.

Using Diigo for Social Bookmarking, Collaboration

You may have noticed that many of the posts here on the SEI Blog are listed as being “Posted from Diigo.” These posts include lists of associated tags and snapshots of the Diigo bookmarks for the person who wrote the post in question.

So you may be wondering, what is Diigo? I thought I would take a minute to explain and to point out some of its more useful features. (Please note that this post is intended for information purposes only and is not meant to be construed as an endorsement of Diigo by SEI, ISTC or any affiliated organization.)

Diigo is a social bookmarking system. You may already be familiar with other social bookmarking systems such as delicious. Social bookmarking involves saving your bookmarks online (making those bookmarks accessible wherever you have an Internet connection) and sharing those bookmarks with friends, coworkers, collaborators, etc. These bookmarks can be tagged with relevant keywords, making them easier to search. Tags also allow you to find other people with similar interests using the same social bookmarking system, and to follow or subscribe to their bookmarks on subjects that interest you.

Some of the more useful features of Diigo include:

  • The ability to highlight parts or all of a given web site. Instead of just bookmarking, you might highlight a particular section of a web site that is of interest to you.
  • The ability to add “sticky notes.” You can attach “sticky notes” to whatever you highlight or bookmark. Your annotations can be kept private or shared with others.
  • These annotations (highlights and sticky notes) are persistent–meaning that if you’re browsing the Internet while logged into Diigo and you revisit a site you’ve previously annotated, you’ll be able to to see your highlighting and notes superimposed on the original web page.  It’s a bit like reading a virtual textbook in which you’ve highlighted text and written in the margins.
  • Networking and collaboration. You can create or join groups within Diigo to share bookmarks and annotations on topics of common interest.  Groups can have forum discussions. Also, if you’re signed into Diigo while browsing the Internet, you can view sticky notes that other people have attached to the web site you’re viewing. This can be a way to learn about and connect to other people with similar interests. You can send annotated web sites to people through the use of specialized URLs generated by Diigo. Within your Diigo dashboard you can  get recommendations for web sites that may be of interest to you or search for people with similar bookmarks or tags.
  • Tools for sharing information in other formats. In addition to sharing bookmarks in the traditional way, tools are available within Diigo to post bookmarks to a blog (as has been done here on the SEI blog), to share bookmarks via Twitter or Facebook, or add a widget (complete with an RSS feed) displaying your most recent bookmarks  or your tags to a web site.

For more information on Diigo, view the demo video on You Tube, read the related Wikipedia article, or read the “About” section of the Diigo web site.

If you have questions about using Diigo or other social bookmarking systems, feel free to email Joy Scrogum. If there are other features of Diigo that you find useful which are not listed here, or if you use a different system to achieve similar results, please feel free to share that information in the “Comments” section of this post.

Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Texas Governor Vetoes TV Recycling Measure

  • KVUE News, Austin, TX, 6/23/09. Includes video with reporter Elise Hu. “Austin Democrat Kirk Watson says he’s stunned by a veto from Governor Rick Perry of a bill that would have encouraged people to recycle their old TVs instead of throwing them out. Watson’s measure would have called for manufacturers to take back their old sets. He says the manufacturers were OK with that, and that’s why he’s surprised Perry tossed it out. “

Comments associated with this news article are interesting; people are perplexed as to why legislation would be necessary to encourage recycling. This indicates an ignorance of the cost associated with electronics recycling.
Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

LG, San Francisco BART Begin Mobile Phone Recycling

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sustainable Management of Electronic Waste (e-Waste)

  • Design for environment cleaner production, extended producer responsibility, standards and labeling, product stewardship, recycling and remanufacturing are some of the practices adopted by various countries around the world to deal with the e-waste stream. An overview of these practices is presented and the manner in which they contribute to the sustainable management of e-waste is discussed.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wisconsin Senate Approves E-Waste Recycling Bill

The text of this bill (SB-107) is available online.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Books and papers related to sustainable electronics research

The following bookmarks have been added to Diigo:

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Indiana E-Waste Law

Indiana recently became the latest state to pass e-waste legislation. See the Diigo bookmarks below for a relevant press release, as well as the text of the law.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.