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Do androids dream of electronic waste?

Submitted by Education on Wed, 19/11/2014 - 12:21

Yesterday I was lucky enough to go to the very cool Fab Lab near Bank to take part in a workshop run by Julie's Bicycle and The Great Recovery, intriguingly titled Do androids dream of electric waste?

As previously mentioned, Julie's Bicycle is a charity working towards making sustainability intrinsic to the business, art and ethics of the creative industries. The Great Recovery is a project run by the RSA, that explores the issues surrounding ethical design and resource-efficient manufacture.

The workshop focused on the waste materials left over from used electrical goods, and we started by learning about how the growth in emerging markets has led to a drastic shortage in the natural resources used making goods such as computers and mobile phones. These products' built-in obsolescence, added to the lack of recycling effort means that their manufacture follows a linear Take - Make - Waste structure. The Great Recovery is focused on promoting the idea of a Circular  Economy, in which the ideas of longevity, recycling and reuse are considered and built in to the design process. Electronic waste is a huge problem - in the UK alone it will amount to 12 million tonnes between now and 2020.  

We all took part in a "tear down" where we took apart broken computers, phones, speakers and other eletrical goods, and attempted to sort them into their constituent parts and work out which materials had been used to make them. Fab Lab run a lot of these tear-downs, and also hold workshops that show you how to make things from old electrical parts - I was fascinated to learn that you can build the basis of a 3D printer from two old laptop DVD drives.

We then learnt about the four main "routes" to a circular economy - Design for Longevity, when products are built to last a long time (like Dr Martens "For Life" boots), Design for Service, which allows consumers to lease and share products as an alternative to buying (like Mud Jeans' Lease A Jeans initiative), Design for Re-use in Manufacture, where manufacturers dissasemble old products to service and re-use the parts (Caterpillar "Reman") and finally Design for Material Recovery where the raw materials from electronic waste are recovered and re-used. We then got into groups to discuss how we would approach redesigning different electronic goods with these design routes in mind.

We also learnt about an amazing new product called Sugru, which makes fixing and mending an easy, fun and creative process - check it our here

Overall, it was an enlightening workshop - we need to think more carefully about the impact of our e-waste and the implications of the choices we make in purchasing electronic items. The idea of a circular economy and a more ethical design and manufacturing process is clearly the way forward and I'll be interested to explore how we can apply and adapt this circular approach to our work at Bow Arts, whether that be in terms of our waste materials, energy use or even our business model.

Rob Harris

Education Assistant