Think Out Loud

"We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience." -John Dewey

Some insight into the life cycle of electronics

Weee Man

This photo shows the head and part of the torso of WEEE Man, a robot-like sculpture created by London designer Paul Bonomini to draw attention to the waste generated by our electronics-centric modern lifestyles. ( 

The ideal waste-disposal lifecycle is a closed loop. In short, this means that products never wind up in landfills or incinerators, but instead get re-used or recycled when they’re no longer useful for their intended purpose.

Unfortunately, the global solutions to e-waste — garbage electronics, appliances, computers and cellphones — have not kept apace of our use of and reliance upon these items.

According to official estimates from the United Nations, the amount of e-waste generated last year throughout the world is roughly equivalent to 15 pounds (6.8 kilos) per every living person.

The typical life cycle of much of this trash is as follows:

(Lots of e-waste is exported to developing countries (like India and Kenya) as “used goods” )–> much of this material winds up in landfills or incinerators, which means that the lead, arsenic and mercury from the waste has an opportunity to contaminate the ground water.

Not to mention, when e-waste is not properly recycled, communities and businesses miss out on the opportunity to extract and re-use precious metals and rare minerals such as the platinum, gold and silver that can be found in some high-end motherboards.

Currently, there are relatively few countries (e.g. the UK, China, Hong Kong) with the technology to isolate these useful components from e-waste. New laws, regulations and even small cottage industries in Kenya are collecting the raw materials to export to these countries to extract.

Of course, it would be much better if these developing countries had more facilities and expertise to do it themselves. Even better yet, if each more locations had organized recycling and extraction facilities to cut down on the additional expense (of fuel and more) of transporting garbage around the world.

The following hyperlinked resources are good starting points for looking into e-waste management and closed loop systems and businesses:

Kenyan company dedicated to e-waste recycling

A waste management solutions company in Australia 

The United Nations’ manual on e-waste management 

A good resource for teachers covering the basics of the e-waste life cycle, with activities 

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This entry was posted on August 23, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
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