E-waste article


“We’ve found a great solution when dealing with your countries e-waste, give it to developing countries and poor people.”

by Roger Sandholm

The amount of manufactured electronics is a big growing problem. Today we use a lot more equipment that gets unusable faster than ever. This growing trend of throwing electronics away contributes to the amount of e-waste everyday. The way we consume electronic devices and things that contain electronic parts has changed in the last few years. But the way we recycle hasn’t changed that much. We know how too recycle electronics but there is no profit in recycling electronic equipment in a legal way. As an example recycling a computer in the US and Europe costs around 20 USD while in India the cost is only 2 USD (E-Waste in India – A Greenpeace short documentary, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3fOLL10yxY). Many countries sell and ships their e-waste too developing countries. There are laws, conventions and regulations too limit these shipments. The Basel convention is one of them set by the UN. It was created to control the movements and disposal of hazardous waste. It says that the receiver of waste must agree on shipments before it can be transported abroad among other things. Many countries that get these shipments of waste say that they never agreed too it and that they are unable to deal with this properly. This is often because manufactures have found a loophole in the convention. If you claim that the shipment of electronics are charitable donations or considered secondhand goods the convention is bypassed. It’s very hard for the developing countries too prove this and they don’t have the means too do anything about it. The laws, regulations and conventions against e-waste are often very good in countries that produce and consume electronic equipment. But the process of taking care and dismantle electronic products can be very difficult and expensive. So by shipping the waste to other countries you can bypass your own country’s restrictions. Developing countries doesn’t have these laws too the same extent as more developed countries do.

When the electronics arrive to it’s destination it’s often transported to unofficial recycling locations or sometimes even garbage cities. These are often located in the slum or where poor people live. The known locations are China, India, Ghana, Nigeria. Electronic waste consists of many pieces that need different ways of recycling. At first it seems simple but a simple piece of plastic can be manufactured in hundreds of different ways. Plastic is put together with a lot of chemicals that gives the plastic certain characteristics. This is also true for all other components of electronic equipment. A lot of the small parts have a lot of non visible heavy metals and toxics in them. At the unofficial recycling factories and shops, different types of metals and parts are sorted out and sold. The types of electronics are for example CRTs and circuit boards. The process of extracting components from electronic parts is not healthy or good for the environment. The parts are burnt or extracted through chemical reactions without safety-equipment, which affects the health of the workers and the environment. The fumes and substances contain PVC, lead, cadmium and flame retardants like PCB’s. These toxics are bad for your nervous system, hormones, kidneys, skin and many deceases can be directly connected with the chemicals. After the process of extracting the useful things the rest is often dumped in landfills or just out in the streets. The way of just dumping electronics and hazardous materials out in the open often pollutes the ground and nearby water supplies. These hazardous metals are brought into the environmental cycles which later makes it difficult to stop from spreading.

The people and sometimes children who do this job of recycling and reusing electronic waste is doing it because they don’t have much of a choice. Many of them know about the dangers involved when working. But they can do little about it. When you need the money you have too take the jobs that’s available.

Who is really responsible for the e-waste problem? Is it the manufacturers, sellers, consumers, recyclers, countries or who? When does the responsibility leave your hands. We must see to that we are contributing and pushing for sustainable solutions. The solution will be found when everyone is working together. A few companies are working on phasing out toxic chemicals from their products. Greenpeace has listed the biggest manufactures of electronics and how good they are at eliminating hazardous substances from their products, taking back and recycling their products and reduce the products climate impact. [see picture].

There has been a growing trend in marketing electronics as being green which is a good step forward in removing substances from the production. We as consumers have little options in dealing with our own e-waste. It’s hard too blame the consumers if there is no sustainable solution for the waste. An idea is to try the same principle as when buying pollution-rights. What if there was a way so that the consumers can pay for an environmentally friendly and healthy recycling process? Or maybe a fee system that when you buy electronics you pay for the recycling process as well.

The problem with hazardous substances in nature that affects the environment and the health of our family and friends has been going on for too long. As a good inspirational musician Marvin Gaye once wrote in 1971 “[…]Where did all the blue skies go? Poison is the wind that blows from the north and south and east. Oh, mercy mercy me[…]”. Think about it.

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Interview with Filipe Balestra

This is the uncut version:

First of all I would like to know what your experience with scavengers and waste issue is?

My experience with scavengers is limited. Urban Nouveau was asked to design a scrap shop in Pune for KKPKP – the local waste pickers association – but we did not have time for it since we were dedicating all our attention to the Incremental Housing Strategy instead. We did however meet up with Laxmi Narayan and in an event regarding waste picking. What struck me the most was the amount of pride that the poor Indian people have inside: waste picker ladies go to work in beautiful saris and golden jewelry, as if they accept who they are without looking down onto themselves and go to work everyday with a smile. Indian people are very hopeful and for a Westerner like me these attitudes end up making a big impact. My experience with waste is probably very similar to yours – we produce a lot of waste in this first world economy – the food we buy is wrapped in unnecessary plastics which take centuries to decompose. You have showed me images of Chris Jordan’s work on the Albatrozes which are dying because they are eating plastic objects which can not be digested. As a consequence, these large birds die because although they have their stomachs full, they are full of undigestible junk – no nutritious food fits in and this photographer has photographed all these bodies of dead birds filled with plastic objects inside. Dreadful! I learned a lot from the research your group has conducted, for example the large island of junk in the middle of the Pacific Ocean which you showed me last week. The consequences of a world on which people only look after themselves can be disastrous! It is important that we come together as a community and demand truthful information on the full cycle of our products. Probably, if we knew the caps of our soda bottles are killing the largest birds in the planet, we would not buy them. In the end, it all boils down to being local and logical, meaning living with a full awareness of our actions and their consequences.

As far as I know you have been to India, what was your work there?

The work me and my team conducted in India continued what I had started in Rio de Janeiro, building a school in a large favela. It is about finding appropriate process to deal with local problems incrementally, that is “little by little” with the consent and participation of the local community. When we work we have no idea of how it is going to look like in the end, we are interested in coming up with solutions which make the local people comfortable and engaged. Long story short, we came up with a strategy to develop slums further instead of demolishing and rebuilding: we discovered that in order to keep the social networks intact we had to keep the urban network intact as well. It is a light handed development alternative…

Can you tell me how the scavengers in india live? How is their living standard?

I do not know how scavengers live, since I have only spent a couple of days with them. What I know is that the ones I have met in Pune are very poor and they live from picking rubber and other recyclable materials in garbage dumps. Afterwards they sell these recyclable materials to scrap shops which gather larger amounts of each material and sells to factories. The living standard is definitively low.

Do you think there is anything we can do from here to improve their standard of living?

We visited a school in a garbage dump in Uruli, on the outskirts of Pune. The school had no water and could have no kitchen because of the bacterial that surrounds it – the school was basically in the middle of all the garbage. The children who use this school are sons and daughters of the people who work everyday in the garbage dump. In order for this children to have lunch, food needs to be cooked away from all the bacteria. This means a transportation cost must be added to the cost of the food, making the poorest people in the city pay more for a meal that the richer ones with “clean jobs” in the city centre. To provide schools with decent kitchens for the children of the waste pickers is probably a good way to start. If you look at the waste pickers themselves, their clothes, their shoes, you can tell that they need better clothing too. Poverty is a huge problem in India. Oh and the garbage dump in Uruli is not a landfill site! This means the soil onto which the garbage is dumped has not been prepared protected, thus the soil is by now completely contaminated. Nobody cares.

Before you said that the women wore jewelry when they were working? Is that true, and if it is, why did they wear jewelry when working with trash?

I am not completely sure, I hope you have the opportunity to meet a waste picker lady one day and ask her that question, but it has to do with pride and self esteem. It does not matter what you do – what matters is how you do it. What is your attitude?

Continuing with females, can they work with everything or are there only some jobs for women? Is it an obvious difference between men and women work?

Men have usually more muscle than women but in India women are working hard in the construction of buildings. Probably there is a lot of intertwining when it comes to work because as the need for survival rises, so does the tolerance level towards what one has got to do to raise a family. Unfortunately I am not a gender expert and prefer not to get into it. Arjun Appadurai has written about Gender, Genre and Power in South Asian Expressive tradition – check it out.

Were there many children working, and if it was, what did they do?

Most children would go to school, however there was a boy that was forced to work by his family. A very unfortunate incident. KKPKP had been trying to reach this boy’s family to make sure this counter-evolutive loop would not continue. It was clear that this boy was not happy doing this job.

When you visited India and the scavengers, was it hard to get contact? Did they invite you with open arms? Was it difficult to enter and get pictures, interviews etc..?

It was Sheela Patel the director of SPARC – the NGO we were working with – who introduced me to Laxmi Narayan in a conference in Pune. From that moment on the doors opened and Urban Nouveau met informally with Laxmi several times. When later on we met the waste pickers who are part of the union where Laxmi works. They took us to the garbage dump and showed us around. These people need all the help they can get so the answer is yes, they received us with open arms and allowed us to take pictures without any problems. People feel if the person who is taking the picture is good or not, and react accordingly. That is why great photographers must be great human beings.

Finally, I wonder what you consider to be their major problem and do you think we can help them? There are already many organizations working to improve their standards, building schools etc. What kind of help do you think is needed?

The biggest challenge I foresee is the multinational garbage corporations conquering the cities with institutionalized machines, taking away the jobs of the people. Remember, my experience is in India, a country with one billion and two million people – everyone needs a job.

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Who’s doing what in the book


1. Debate Article: Olle
2. Scavengers: Donna
3. Organizations: Frida
4. Hazards: Kribba
5. Interview: Frida
6. Great Pacific Garbage Patch: Martin
7. E-Waste: Roger
8. Inventions: Susanna
9. How To decrease your waste: Therese
Design: Joakim

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Garbage is bullshit?

(draft of the debate article for the book)

There is an expression saying that “one mans trash is another mans treasure”. This is literary true when it comes garbage. What garbage is all about is simply our personal valuation of objects. If the value is too small, we regard it as trash; otherwise we might treasure it. Where we place this limit is solely individual.

For someone whose livelihood depends on every earned dollar this limit could be very low, but never reach any minimum: every object has a value and might or might not be regarded as trash. A businessman could consider returning a soda can to the store for the deposit not being worth the effort, so he throws it on the street, while the waste-picker would retrieve it, separate the aluminium lid from the body and sell it as metal scraps. Trash is only what we choose it to be and therefore we can change its meaning, no object is per definition garbage.

If there is to be a change in people’s value limit (not including putting all rich countries into poverty), the limit can not be set by our economic standards alone, but mainly by considering the ecological price of throwing away an object. All products and materials that we use is a part of our planet Earth, and to regard it as trash is just foolish. We must reuse, recycle and reduce our consumption with the aim to get rid of the word garbage, because garbage simply is bullshit!

Olle Westerlund

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Potatis och lera nytt skydd för mat

Saxat från metroteknik.se:
“Skikt av nanolera och stärkelse på förpackningen skyddar maten. Kan ersätta plast och aluminium.
Ett forskningsprojekt vid Karlstads universitet och Sheffield Hallam University kan ge bättre och mer miljövänliga pappersförpackningar. Genom att belägga papper med ett lager av lera och potatisstärkelse kan maten skyddas mot både fukt och syre, de största matförstörarna.
– Vårt material kan ersätta aluminium i juiceförpackningar, då blir det lättare att återvinna returpappret. Dessutom blir det bättre kvalitet på returfibrerna, säger Caisa Andersson, docent i kemiteknik vid Karlstads universitet.
I slutet av april kom hon och professor Chris Breen på tredje plats i finalen av den internationella tävlingen Globe Forum Innovators Contest.
De har precis avslutat en förstudie och söker investerare och en partner som vill testa tekniken i sin produktion. Visionen är att bli lika stora som Tetrapak.
– Inom 5-10 år kommer vi vara lika effektiva och billiga som plast, men helt oljeoberoende, säger Caisa Andersson.

• En blandning av montmorillonitlera och potatisstärkelse stryks på förpackningspapper.
• Stärkelsen skyddar mot syre och fett och nanolerpartiklarna skyddar stärkelsen mot fukt.
• Kan i ett första steg användas i stället för plast- eller aluminiumfolie i kak- och smörgåsförpackningar.”

Läs mer på Metroteknik

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Presentation time

Presentation has started and Joakim had talked about the first part of our process and now Olle is talking about the division in to two groups. Waste and scavengers.

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More waste on campus?

Excellent presentation of Wake up Sthlm, also with a Plan B! We are a bit worried about the coffee cups that will be spread over campus and we will try to make sure they get recycled properly!

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