Material Monday: E-waste

Material Monday: E-waste

Posted 10 April 2017 by Nirvana CPH

This week’s Material Monday Seetal Solanki of Ma-tt-er will be discussing electronic waste as a potential resource for future products.

Worldwide 20 to 50 million tons of electronic waste is disposed of on an annual basis making this a huge issue which could be utilised as a potential resource.

According to the activist group ‘Only 12.5% of e-waste is currently recycled. A large number of what is labeled as “e-waste” is actually not waste at all, but rather whole electronic equipment or parts that are readily marketable for reuse or can be recycled for materials recovery.’

Large amounts of precious metals such as gold, silver and bronze are present within mobile phones and electronic devices which are disposed of at an alarming rate. 35,274 lbs of copper, 772 lbs of silver, 75 lbs of gold, and 33 lbs of palladium can be recovered for every 1 million mobile phones. Not waste at all.

Earlier this year the Tokyo Olympic organisers asked the public to donate their old electronic devices and smartphones to make Olympic medals for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games. In last year’s Rio Games 30% of the medals were made from electronic waste which can reduce the amount of raw material used and in turn reduce the budget, especially as the Tokyo games could reach a whopping $30 billion.

Research studio Unknown Fields Division brings awareness to the issue at hand by producing a range of Earthenware made from e-waste. The process reveals the global supply chains which are not normally visible within manufacturing and exposes the exact location in which the waste ends up and is truly disturbing – China 40°39’50.5″ 109°50’11.4 to be exact.

Unknown Fields Division go on to say that ‘The finished vases are made from the exact amount of toxic waste produced in the manufacture of 3 objects of technology- the smartphone, the laptop and the electric car battery cell.’ The familiar form of a vase is quite unexpected and also quite a smart move, as the public are able to engage with the objects but then allow an element of surprise and possibly shock once there is an understanding of what they are made of.

Could the answer lie in the systems we design to produce these products in order to reduce the sheer amount of waste produced? Rather than designing for planned obsolescence there needs to be more responsible decisions being made within design and manufacturing.  Google’s Ara modular phone does just that. The phone is designed to be flexible and allow for personalisation too. Could it go further and design the parts with certain materials so that the parts can be replaced and recycled more easily?

An increasing problem with a considerable amount of opportunity.