We just finished putting together this awesome video about the work we did in Sierra Leone in November/December of 2013. Check it out!
Project:CC sat down with Wesley Varughese after he helped us establish a lab at Njala University in Sierra Leone. He gave us some insight as to how he got involved with the project and some of the impact it's going to have there. Take a look!
If you'd like to see more videos from us check out our channel on Vimeo!
Men bridge digital divide, reduce electronic waste
By Anna Marie Lux
MILWAUKEE--Jeff Hanson could be working as an engineer.
Kiefer Stenseng could be attending graduate school in Norway.
Instead, the 2008 Janesville Craig High School graduates are committed to bridging the digital divide.
Five years ago, Hanson co-founded Project: Community Computers as a student group while attending the Milwaukee School of Engineering. The idea behind the project was to bring technology to people in need while reducing electronic waste.
Since then, the group has set up more than 20 computer labs with used equipment across three continents. Hanson currently is setting up a lab with about 35 donated computers at Njala University in Sierra Leone. Helping him are students from Lawrence University and MSOE.
The effort also provides technical service and computer lab donations to nonprofit groups close to home. In Milwaukee, the project has provided tools for people to find work in the inner city and supplied computers to students who cannot afford them.
Hanson also set up two used computers with a printer at a men's shelter in Janesville so people can work on resumes and gain online skills.
The young entrepreneurs eagerly pour energy and effort into the project, but they need money. By Dec. 31, they hope to raise $100,000 in donations to turn the start-up organization into a full-fledged nonprofit agency.
“The campaign has to succeed for us to keep going,” Hanson said. “It's impossible to say how many people we have impacted so far. If we raise the funds, we can do so much more.”
As a college freshman, Hanson made the first of three trips to Africa to help set up a computer lab in Kenya. Before coming home, he witnessed the positive impact technology had on people who previously had no computer access.
Hanson recently graduated with degrees in computer engineering and electrical engineering. Instead of looking for a job, he is working hard to keep the computer project alive.
“It's impossible to stop now,” Hanson said. “I see a lot of potential in it. There are so many people out there who don't have access to technology. At the same time, all these groups are constantly getting rid of tons of perfectly good computers.”
He teamed up with Stenseng, a recent UW-Madison graduate who has a passion for social welfare. Today, Hanson is director of operations and Stenseng is the agency's creative director.
“People don't understand how big a deal the computers are until you see how they impact lives,” Stenseng said. “It's the coolest thing in the world to be involved in this project.”
Both know that what they are doing is not a new idea. But they hope to be the ones who do it best.
“Our goal is to turn one person's trash into another's treasure,” Hanson said.
They cite telling statistics that support their effort: Of the more than 7 billion people on the planet, only about 2 billion have access to the Internet. In the United States alone, roughly 30 million people do not have access to computers. At the same time, companies, schools, businesses and citizens are throwing away tons of electronics annually because they are considered outdated.
Hanson installs the used computers with an operating system called Ubuntu, which was created for the purpose of free distribution.
“The project wouldn't be possible without the software, which is stable and secure,” he said.
On their website, the men explain that many people use computers and the Internet for education, to find work and to connect with friends and family.
When you think about all the ways that technology improves our lives, it is easy to see how a digital divide exists between the haves and the have-nots, they said.
The divide is not limited to the developing world. In fact, they explain that the divide is larger for those within developed communities without computer access than for those in developing countries without computer access.
“We're middle-class guys who can change the lives of so many people,” Stenseng said. “We just have to do it.”
Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at (608) 755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- See more at: http://www.gazettextra.com/article/20131127/ARTICLES/131129748#sthash.lAHvM9fw.dpuf
On Saturday, November 23rd, Project: Community Computers and students from Lawrence University and Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) departed for Njala University in Sierra Leone. While there they will be setting up a computer lab for the 6,000 students and doing research on the impact technology can have in communities.
This is why Project:CC needs your help. We are still seeking funding and in order to continue bridging the digital divide in Milwaukee and around the world we need anything that you are able to give. Please visit our Indiegogo campaign where you can donate and then share our mission. Every cent you give makes a tremendous difference and it all goes back to communities in need.
Project:CC's indiegogo campaign featured on Jono Bacon's blog:
Free Software is not just software or a philosophical attitude to freely available software. Free Software is a catalyst for change in a constantly evolving world that is becoming more and more dependent on technology. Unfortunately while many of us are getting faster and faster computers on our desktops and in our pockets, for many the digital divide is ever wide as it has always been.
I have always had a soft spot for those organizations who selflessly bring Free Software to those for whom technology is a missing link in their lives. I spent two years doing this with OpenAdvantage before I joined Canonical, bringing technology to a region where many manual labourers were out of work and needing access to technology and training to upskill and get new jobs to support their families. Likewise groups like A2RT, FreeGeek, Partimus and more doing similar great work.
When I was speaking at Ohio Linux Fest earlier this year I met the Project Community Computers. Emma from System76 told me they wanted to talk to me about their project (they use Ubuntu extensively across their projects) so I had a meeting with them. The project essentially takes Ubuntu and puts it on recycled computers and they have set up over 20 educational labs around the world.
All out of their own pocket. All on their own time.
I was blown away by their accomplishments.
The guys are smart, selfless, motivated, and harnessing the truest power of Free Software…to break down the digital divide. They are not just talking a big game…they are playing a big game with so many accomplishments so far. It is projects like this why I got involved in Free Software and Ubuntu in the first place.
The team were looking for opportunities for funding their continued work and I suggested they crowd-fund it, an idea that they had already thought about, so I am delighted to see they have kicked their campaign off at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/project-community-computers.
See their campaign video below:
Please go and invest in this tremendous team and project; I have no doubt that every penny will be put to good use.
On Friday, November 1st, 2013, Project: Community Computers launched a campaign on Indiegogo.com in order to raise funds to help our organization become a full-time organization geared towards distributing used technology to non-profits in Milwaukee and around the world.
We've already had a huge impact on a lot of different people here in Milwaukee and across the globe. We want to continue changing lives and reducing e-waste, but in order for Project:CC to continue as an organization, we need funding and that's why we're reaching out to our local and international community.
Our goal is to raise $100,000 to cover all of our administrative and operational costs. We have a handful of awesome perks to express our gratitude for your contribution to our mission. Even if you can’t contribute financially, simply sharing our project with your friends can have an outstanding impact on our success.
The campaign can be found here: igg.me/at/projectcomcomp
Project: Community Computers was thrilled to be featured on iloveubuntu.net with our friend System76
4-year-old computers installed with Ubuntu and sent by System76 to Project: Community Computers
Ubuntu is a vivid ecosystem where humanity is located at the very heart of the Ubuntu universe, overall caring-for-others attribute traversing users, developers and companies.
System76 is an experienced company rooted into selling computers powered by Ubuntu, offering laptops, netbooks, servers and desktops to users seeking both powerful and lightweight machines equipped with the latest versions of Ubuntu.
It seems that, along with selling computers, System76 is involved in reducing the gap between developed and undeveloped countries/regions/individuals (from an economic point of view) by offering computers powered by Ubuntu to in-development persons, and, therefore, increasing their ability to experience a more proper IT life and to benefit related effects (increased knowledge, Internet, communication across the world, etc).
System76 has shared on its official Google+ webpage several images with computers older than 4 years that have received an Ubuntu installation and have been sent to the Community Computers project, interesting project specialized in a wide range of activities, including improving education in Kenya, providing information and guidance to persons seeking employment in the city of Milwaukee, essentially, having an activity spanning three continents.
While 4 years may seem a long distance, the 4-year-old computers are sufficient and usable for multiple activities, including web browsing, media playing, reading books, editing images, computers that, bundled with Ubuntu, have been moved from a zero-activity stage to potentially empowering persons in improving their IT lives.
Check out Jeff's interview with the team at Xubuntu, featured on Xubuntu.org:
Clomid online cheap Lasix Jeff Hanson of Project: Community Computers recently contacted the Xubuntu developers to introduce the work his organization is doing and ask about how best to give feedback. We took this opportunity to launch our“Xubuntu at…” series of interviews by asking him more about the organization!
Please tell us a bit about yourself and Project: Community Computers.
Mission Statement: “Project: Community Computers reduces e-waste and bridges the digital divide by reusing and recycling computers and bringing technology access to those in need.”
We started as a student group at the Milwaukee School of Engineering in 2009. Our mission is to kill two birds with one stone. Millions of tons of working computer hardware are thrown away every year, and billions of people around the world are with extremely limited access to technology. If you think about all that having a computer and Internet access opens up for you in the 21st Century, you’d have to wonder how people without it ever compete. No doing your homework when you go home from school. No using it to search and apply for jobs. No using it the unlimited resources to expand your knowledge and skill sets. We aim to give people a critical tool to break the cycle of poverty.
This isn’t even a developing world problem, there are almost 30 million people in the United States alone that don’t have a computer at home. We aim to redirect computers from the landfill to people that use them around the world. We’ve set up public computer labs at schools, community centers, and churches in Kenya, Cameroon, Mexico, and China, just to name a few places, in addition to our growing body of work in inner city Milwaukee.
After being a student group for so many years, we’re currently working on turning Project:CC into an independent 501c(3) to expand and sustain our mission.
What influenced your decision to use Open Source software in your organization?
There are both practical and ideological reasons for using open source software. Putting open source software on donated hardware allows us to give technology access to the people that need it for free. All we have to add are tech skills and time. Furthermore, what the open source movement is trying to do with software is the exact same idea as what we are trying to do with technology access: Democratization, equal access, and equal opportunity.
What made you select Xubuntu for your deployments?
It’s no secret that Ubuntu is one of the most user-friendly Linux distributions, if not operating systems, around, so using Ubuntu was a no-brainer for us, especially since many of our users have had very limited access to and experience with computers. This is not even to speak of stability and security inherent with Linux.
Since we use a lot of donated, older hardware, Xubuntu’s lightweight Xfce environment makes it so even 10 year old hardware runs smoothly. Occasionally, we’ll get some hardware so old that even Xubuntu won’t run and we have to recycle it, but Xubuntu allows us to get more donated hardware into the hands of people who need it.
Can you tell us a bit about your Xubuntu setup?
We start with the current Xubuntu LTS, and then we add all four Edubuntu packs from the software center. So you have all the educational content of Edubuntu with the lightweight stable interface of Xubuntu.
Recently we decided to add LibreOffice and remove Abiword and Gnumeric. I really enjoyed the simplicity of these two programs, however they were lacking some compatibility and the switch really came when we needed a presentation program and decided we should just move all productivity software to Libre to keep things as easy for our users as possible.
A few other programs are added as well such as Celestia, Xaos, Skype, Dropbox, and we continue to keep an eye out for good programs.
The rest is just little settings, like having the system autologin (so users in the lab don’t ever need a password unless changing settings.), frequency of getting updates, sending feedback, power settings, etc.
We do the whole install on something small like an 8gig flash drive and create the image off of this. Then we can throw the image on any usb drive or hard drive 8 gigs or more.
Imaging becomes overly simple by using Ubuntu because there really are no proprietary drivers. We have one image. The image can be put on any type of hard drive and into any computer and it will boot the same. (Just another example of how Ubuntu allows our project to work so effectively )
For us to image a drive it takes between 7 and 10 minutes depending on the connection. This means if we have a laptop donated for example, and say windows wasn’t booting properly, or it had a virus, it’s a matter of removing the hard drive, waiting 10 minutes for it to image, putting it back in and booting it up!
We use USB to Hard Drive adapters so we can image from a laptop to any type of drive. Many times around Milwaukee, we’ll be setting up a lab and they might already have computers that are just running slowly, so we’ll show up with a laptop and image the computers on site to save everyone time and keep reusing the same computers.
We are currently looking for a new open source solution for imaging drives, that includes allowing someone running a lab to easily reimage a computer without removing the hard drive or crawling through too many text based screens. We’d greatly appreciate any feedback on this matter.
Is there anything else you wish to share with us about your organization or how you use Xubuntu?
Thank you to everybody who has contributed to the development and creation of Xubuntu, we really appreciate it and love using it! Your work is having a real impact, both on the environment and the lives of people in need.
If you’d like to contribute either hardware or money, we’re happily accepting both. We’re planning trips to Sierra Leone and Jamaica later this year, so we need all of the computers we can get! Currently, we are raising funds to move out of our small student org office space that MSOE has graciously given us and into a bigger space.Details on how to donate can be found at our website.
If you think this is a great idea and you’d love to do it in your town, please contact us, we’d love to help you get started!
For the past four years, Project: Community Computers has been a small student organization at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. We have all given our time to this organization as a hobby, a side project to everything else that has been going on in our lives. Even though we've accomplished a lot we have decided to take things to the next level. Kick things up a notch, if you will. Today, we are excited to announce our intentions to turn Project: Community Computers in to a full-fledged 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
For the interim, we have formed Project: Community Computers, LLC, a not-for-profit corporation that will allow us to continue to grow as we work towards our tax-exempt status. We have also overhauled our entire website to give the world a better view of our work. You may also have noticed the new logo, courtesy of our friend Dylan Moriarty.
In addition to all of the organizational changes happening with Project:CC, we have continued our mission with a new project set up in China (details coming soon!), pending expansions to the Summerfield UMC project, another project here in Milwaukee, and travel plans to Sierra Leone this fall!
Thank you to everybody for your continued support so far over these past four years. The next four will be even better!
Our YMCA Sponsor-a-Scholor project was featured in the April 2013 Mozee Minute. The Mozee Minute is the monthly newsletter for the Milwaukee School of Engineering community.
MSOE student supports YMCA scholars
MSOE student Jeff Hanson, who coordinates Project Community Computers (PCC), refurbished and distributed 15 laptop computers to inner-city kids participating in the YMCA Sponsor-a-Scholar program. The computers were donated by MSOE's IT Department. Many of these students have no access to computer technology at home, but can now engage in homework assignments more easily and prepare for post-secondary education pursuits.
The full newsletter can be found here: Mozee Minute April 2013
This summary explains our partnership with the church: We believe that technology is a vital tool for spreading the Good News of Jesus and sharing this love with our local community. Summerfield UMC has combined it numerous technology-based initiatives into a formal ministry. A generation ago, knowledge was obtained only from books. To see the world meant getting on a plane, or at least waiting for a picture postcard in the mail. Today, the internet has transformed the computer into a tiny portal that connects to a vast social network of people and information. purchase Tadalafil Understanding this need, we have established two computer labs. The Summerfield UMC Meal Outreach Computer Lab, and the Samuel Fallows Multimedia Center at Summerfield UMC. This technology will allow the needy of Milwaukee to utilize resources that they normally have limited access to, such as job searches, connecting with family via eMail, and exploring educational opportunities. It offers multimedia and print resources, such as audio sermon series, Bible commentaries, concordances and reference materials, with literature about Christian living.
We would like to thank our partners Project: Community Computers for their donation of equipment and training. We are grateful for their support. pills made from natural herbal ingredients: Posted under Tech Ministry
Our project at St. Joseph's Comprehensive High School in Cameroon was featured in the Winter 2012/2013 edition of CampusTech, the quarter newsletter from the Milwaukee School of Engineering's Information Technology department.
Computers in Cameroon
A group of MSOE students and faculty from Alverno College recently traveled to Africa to set up a computer lab for
students at St. Joseph Comprehensive High School in Mambu, Bafut, Cameroon. The initiative was spearheaded by Project Community Computers, an organization headed by Jeff Hanson, electrical engineering and computer engineering senior at MSOE. The used laptops, which otherwise would have been recycled, were donated by MSOE’s Information Technology Department and loaded with a free, open-source operating system...
You can read the full article here: CampusTech - Winter 2012-2013
During Winter Quarter at MSOE, we teamed up with Robert Dunn, CEO of Our Next Generation here in Milwaukee, to set up a computer lab at their main location for the students to use.
Our Next Generation, Inc. is a program to help urban youth achieve academic and personal success.
"In the community we serve, statistics tell us that without intervention less than 40% of children will graduate from high school."
Our Next Generation makes sure every student who walks through their doors graduates from high school and has future goals set.
We have been setting up a lab with about 18 computers. All of which have internet access. With the usual Ubuntu software installed, there is lots of educational software for the students to use in their free time. All of the computers also have the standard office software and are hooked up to a printer so students can print school projects, etc.
Rafael Possamai, a fellow MSOE student who has been putting a lot of time into help with this lab, has been hired part time by ONG to help with their other IT issues. He will be their after we finish setting up the lab to make sure it continues to function, and that it gets used to its fullest potential.
Please check out their website to find out more about what they do and how you can help: http://ongkids.org/
Last month Brydie from Project Kenya made a quick trip to Migori. We sent a laptop with her which she personally delivered to our friend Joram Matunga. Joram is attending IAT School of Business in Nairobi. He is now using the laptop for his school work.
Brydie also got some good news about Mbarro primary. Because of the lab we set up this summer, "the Ministry of Education announced that Nyamome Primary's computer lab will become an e-learning site. It will be one of five schools chosen in the entire the area." This lab has proven to be quite the success and this is very exciting news!
More info on Migori can be found here.
This past Saturday, we donated computers to 14 students of The Literacy Connection in Janesville. These computers will help the students, who did not previously have computer access, study as well as obtain computer skills. We set up a demo station inside to give everyone a feel for the software and make sure they were able to set them up when they got home. Universal Recycling Technologies of Janesville donated 14 used LCD monitors for the occasion. All of the recipients were very ecstatic about the opportunity. Everything went well and we're hoping this is something we can repeat in the future! http://theliteracyconnection.com/
This July marked Project:CC’s second service trip to Kenya with Project Kenya and MSOE’s Servant Leadership. Our goal again was to bring a computer lab to a school in Kenya that would otherwise not be able to afford one. This year’s school was the Nyamome Primary School in Migori, Kenya.
A group of about 17 students and teachers traveled to Kenya for a two week stay. The group worked on many projects throughout the week we were in Migori. Several teachers on the trip spent a lot of time in the classroom educating and working with the students. Other volunteers worked on projects such as building new desks for the classrooms and a swing set for the school yard, helping to finish the new, donated kindergarten building, painting, and of course the computer lab. To set up the computer lab, we cleaned, painted the walls, built bench style desks, ran wire and installed outlets, set up the computers, and finally instructed teachers in using the computers.
Just like last year’s computer lab, the majority of the effort came before we even arrived in Kenya. First, Project:CC acquired all of the computers for this trip from the Wisconsin Rapids School District. They were older, but perfectly functional computers that would otherwise be recycled. Next, we cleaned and tested them to make sure they were working as expected. Then, we went through the process of wiping the hard drives and installing new software. This brought the computers back to a like-new condition. Instead of using Windows on these computers, we used an Operating System called Ubuntu, just as we do on all Project:CC computers. (www.ubuntu.com) Ubuntu is free, open source, community developed software. Unlike Windows, it runs well on older computers and does not require continuous maintenance to stay running smoothly. Because we were using Ubuntu, we were able to load the computers full of fun, educational software such as math and spelling games, 3D globes, calculators, office tools, and plenty of other good stuff for free.
Once we managed to get all of the software on all of the systems, everything tested and error free, then we just needed to get them from Wisconsin to Kenya. The Project Kenya group packed 15 computers, keyboards, mice, mouse pads, power cords, and LCD monitors in duffel bags and checked them as their personal luggage. All of this came from Project:CC except the LCD monitors which were either donated or purchased directly by Project Kenya. In the end, everything arrived safely in Kenya, and the computer lab was a success.
This computer lab will have a huge impact. As it is the first in the Migori School District, many people in the community have never used a computer. However, computer experience is needed if going on to a university or for many jobs. With all of the software being used, we are bringing more than computers to the community, we are bringing calculators, maps, and other tools they did not previously have access to.
We are already working on computers for the next trip back to Migori which will be in early March. We hope to continue to provide educational tools to great communities like these in Kenya. Thanks must go out to Project Kenya, MSOE's Servant Leadership, and everyone else who help make this happen.
Yesterday a two computer lab was setup at The Shelter Fellowship and Outreach Center in Janesville. The Shelter has been acting as the men's homeless day center, and is in the process of transforming into a nighttime shelter as well. The Shelter has provided for over 30 men at a time. These computers along with printer are being used to allow homeless men to type resumes to help them find Jobs.
Electronic Waste as a Derivative of Affluence and Consumerism: How Electronic Waste Came to Be an Issue and How the Handling Solutions Affect the Environment and the Economy.
This essay was written by Dan Pastori as a final paper for English 102 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwuakee
Over the last century, our society as a whole has been growing increasingly more dependent on material possessions, feeling the need to buy more items, especially electronic items, to try and stay up-to-date in our technological revolution. The never-ending need for more possessions has created a term, “Affluenza” which is a slang way of combining the word for the illness “influenza” with the word “Affluence”, an abundance of property (Merriam-Webster). Affluenza is unofficially defined in the book, Affluenza: The All Consuming Epidemic, as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more” (Affluenza pg. 3). Essentially, Affluenza is a theoretical disease that has infected society, making its victims susceptible to advertising and giving into the consumerism ideals that they need more and more material goods. The problem with this “constant need for more” is the amount of waste produced when the products are discarded. The waste created by electronics is especially harmful to the environment and is one of the world's fastest-growing waste-related issues. Greenpeace states that “In many countries it's the fastest growing type of waste as cheap prices mean replacing electronics is cheaper than fixing them, while low price often means low quality and a very short life spans” (Greenpeace). Electronic waste is the material that makes up the inner workings of cell phones, radios, computers, or any other electronic device, hidden beneath the fancy plastic shell. The problem of electronic waste (e-waste) comes from people's seemingly unlimited wants and the fact that electronics have become a bigger part of everyday life. Since people keep wanting more, and electronics have become a bigger part of our lives, people purchase more electronic devices. More electronic devices means more electronic waste is produced. As a society, we need to properly dispose of our electronic devices, by realizing the hazards these devices can bring to our health and environment, and develop and adopt solutions to prevent the devices from filling our landfills. These facts generate the main focus of this essay, how electronic waste is a derivative of affluence and consumerism, and what we can do to develop solutions with respect to the environment and the economy. Electronic waste comes in many forms, like cell phones, computers, radios, and other electronics. Any device that contains electronic components is considered to be electronic waste once it has been discarded. Many people don't see what makes up the waste because, electronic waste is usually what is inside the plastic or metal shell of the electronic device. Despite the dangers of electronic waste not being visible to the naked eye, electronic waste has many dangers to our health and environment. The chemicals that make up the electronic components of the devices are what make these devices dangerous to the environment and the living species in the environment where they are improperly recycled. In Jessika Toothman's article on “How E-waste Works” from the website Howstuffworks.com, she states that “E-waste dangers stem from ingredients such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, copper, beryllium, barium, chromium, nickel, zinc, silver and gold. Many of these elements are used in circuit boards and comprise electrical parts such as computer chips, monitors and wiring. Also, many electrical products include various flame-retardant chemicals that might pose potential health risks”(Toothman). Toothman explains that this statement, comes from research collected by the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Research Program. When improperly recycled, these chemicals get released into the environment and can affect all living species. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Mercury, at high exposures, may cause “kidney effects, respiratory failure, and death” (EPA), lead can cause “nerve disorders, high blood pressure, muscle and joint pain, and memory and concentration problems”(EPA), and arsenic can cause “lower birth weight and lung cancer” (EPA). These are a few examples of the potential dangers that the chemicals released from improperly handled electronic waste can pose to the environment. Figure 1 is a table presented in the book Waste Treatment by Anne Maczulak, that displays the materials of concern in e-waste and how they effect humans and the environment. These harmful materials have already started to make their way into the environment. Geofeng Zhao, Huaidong Zhou, and Zijan Wang performed a study to “estimate the total daily dietary intakes of the five heavy metals, As [Arsenic], Cd [Cadmium], Cr [Chromium], Hg [Mercury], and Pb [Lead] for the residents living in five villages located in the Zhejiang province of China” (Zhao, Zhou, Wang). Their results show that the “ highest dietary intakes of the five heavy metals were all observed in the four e-waste dis-assembly localities” (Zhao, Zhou, Wang). The evidence presented through this research, shows that the dangerous materials already threaten humans with disease and death.
Materials of Concern in E-Waste
Effect on Human or Ecosystem Health
Nonhazardous metals, plastic shells, screens, cables
Excess non-degradable bulk in landfills
Loss of habitat for landfill
Bromine-containing flame retardants
Bioaccumulation in human and wildlife tissue
Contacts, switches, and batteries
Cadmium and nickel
Cadmium toxicity in plants, wildlife, and humans; nickel allergies in humans
Metal housings and joints
Hexavalent chromium corrosion protector
Toxicity in liver and kidneys; potentially carcinogenic
Circuit boards and cathode ray tubes
Toxic to animal nervous systems; toxic to plants
Flat screen displays
Highly toxic compounds accumulate in food chains
Wires and cables
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
Incineration creates toxic dioxins and furans
Springs, relays, connectors, motherboards
Beryllium dusts are highly toxic to humans when inhaled.
Fig. 1. Displayed are some of the materials of concern found in electronic waste and specifically which electronic component of the waste is a hazard. Also displayed is how the material affects the environment and human health. Source: Waste Treatment: Reducing Global Waste by Anne Maczulak PH.D
Improper handling of electronic waste consists mainly of open-air burning of the devices. In third world countries, piles of electronic devices get burned to harvest the precious metals inside, such as gold and silver. Once the electronic waste has been handled improperly, the dangerous substances begin to pose a threat to the environment and our health through processes like bioaccumulation and biomagnification. The United States Geological Survey defines bioaccumulation as “a general term for the accumulation of substances, such as pesticides, methylmercury, or other organic chemicals in an organism or part of an organism” (USGS). The dangerous chemicals of electronic waste bioaccumulate from being consumed implicitly (usually from being in small doses on normally consumed food) by organisms living in the areas that don't recycle electronic waste properly. The accumulation comes from the fact that the heavy metals present in electronic devices don't break down easily, so they stay in the organism's system for a lot longer than other chemicals, accumulating over time. The bioaccumulation process can kick off a process called biomagnification, which can dangerously affect humans. Biomagnification defined by the United States Geological Survey is “the bioaccumulation of a substance up the food chain by transfer of residues of the substance in smaller organisms that are food for larger organisms in the chain” (USGS). This means the smaller organisms, which consume the dangerous chemicals that don't break down, work their way up the food chain until we consume the chemicals indirectly. Since the dangerous chemicals, especially the heavy metals, don't break down easily, they stay present throughout the food chain, eventually reaching humans, potentially causing disease or death.
The production of electronic wastes stems from people's artificial “need” to have the most up-to-date, fastest electronic device available, or have multiple copies of devices that can perform the same function, creating an “electronic affluence” or “abundance of electronics.” Stated earlier, affluence is an “abundance of wealth” (Merriam-Webster). In today's society, wealth usually refers to material possessions, so electronic affluence would be an abundance of electronics. The slang term, Affluenza, can be used to describe the pseudo-epidemic sweeping the country, where the side effects are uncontrollable spending and amounting credit card debt. A prime example taken from the book Affluenza is the fact that there are “more cars [in America] than registered drivers” while at the same time, “every 15 seconds someone in America files for bankruptcy, half of which are from reckless spending” (Affluenza pg. 20). This example illustrates the over-spending nature of Americans. If so many people are buying multiple cars, and at the same time people are filing for bankruptcy with the majority of the claims coming from over-spending, there are some habits that need to be broken. A car is just one example of a good that people purchase, a very expensive good. This spending trait trickles down to all items that people purchase. “In 1999, according to the National Retail Foundation, Americans spent nearly $200 billion on holiday gifts, more than $850 per customer” (Affluenza pg 13). This kind of spending habit produces massive amounts of garbage, like 130,000,000 cell phones and 50,000,000 computers every year (Maczulak), most of these get dumped into a landfill before the lifespan of the product has been reached.
Another term, less slang than “Affluenza”, but used to describe the over-consuming nature of the people in the world is “consumerism.” Consumerism is defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as “the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable” (Merriam-Webster Online). It is true that the more people spend on goods and services, the more the country's GDP increases. According to textbook, Foundations of Macroeconomics, by Bade and Parkin, the economic growth rate is defined as “ the annual percentage change of real GDP” (Bade and Parkin 214). To narrow down the source further, GDP is defined as, “the market value of all the final goods and services produced within a country in a given time period” (Bade and Parkin 114). The connection between spending and economic growth is revealed between these two definitions. If consumers keep spending more throughout given time periods, the companies that produce the goods and services will produce more of the goods and services that people consume resulting in an increase in GDP , indicating economic growth. With the desire to increase our economy, the spending ideals encouraged by corporations, politicians, and peers, help our economy to boom while our personal finances suffer. Corporations encourage massive spending habits to boost profits, build capital, and produce more goods. Politicians encourage over-consuming spending habits to show that the economy is growing. These habits are encouraged while they are in office, so their approval will increase because they apparently made the economy increase. Our peers indirectly influence our spending habits by showing off what they have just purchased. This kind of idea is where the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” comes from. People tend to rate their level of success based on what they have compared to what others have. This kind of mindset can lead to serious financial hardships, especially in the day of credit cards. With credit cards, people seem to think they can buy now and pay later. This mindset is fine when people actually have the money to pay for the item later, but sadly this is not the case and results in people spending money that they don't have.
One of the greatest sources of influence on spending habits is corporate advertising. The corporations try to push their product or service upon us by trying to make the customer need something they don't. “The Gospel of Consumption” by Jeffrey Kaplan explains how people came to wanting more than they need, starting with the way people spent their money in the early 20th century up until today. He also incorporates the corporate mindset behind making the consumer “need” something they don't. The time frame that Kaplan starts with in his article ranges from pre-Great Depression, around 1920, when electricity was for the rich and private cars were rare.
“But, despite the apparent tidal wave of new consumer goods and what appeared to be a healthy appetite for their consumption among the well-to-do, industrialists were worried. They feared that the frugal habits maintained by most American families would be difficult to break. Perhaps even more threatening was the fact that the industrial capacity for turning out goods seemed to be increasing at a pace greater than people's sense that they needed them” (Kaplan).
This idea that Kaplan presents, regarding the fact that the industries could produce more than the people could consume, kicked off the advertising campaign to make wants and to cause more consumer spending. New technological advancements were changing the way products were produced, during the early part of the 20th century and affected how people lived their lives. However these developments were pushed by people's wants for more. People in the pre-Great Depression era didn't want as much as the capabilities of production provided. The American people were frugal with their money. This mindset inspired Charles Kettering, director of General Motors Research, to write a magazine article in 1929, called “Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied” (Kaplan). Kaplan explains that the article written “wasn't suggesting that manufacturers produce shoddy products”, but “was defining a strategic shift for American industry-from fulfilling basic human needs to creating new ones” (Kaplan). The idea of creating human needs is still prevalent today. Corporations such as Apple produce products like the iPhone, which people purchase thinking it has everything they would ever need, only to have a new feature released on the next model that they think they can't live without. In Apple's eyes, they aren't creating shoddy products to enhance the lives of the consumers.
However, Apple's opinion of creating a new and better product has turned against them in some other people's opinions. Dave Connell, a Nature Conservancy green tech blogger presents his opinion against Apple and Google products, specifically the mobile phone market, a huge producer of e-waste. In his article, “Apple and Google, set to bring the (e)Waste” he states that,
“the devices that these two companies [Apple and Google] are pouring money into (and that Microsoft is desperately trying to keep up with) are inherently disposable:
- They are small, cheap, and ultraportable;
- They have limited storage capacity-meaning you'll store most of your data on the web;
- They have limited battery life.
Combine all these things, and you have products that will end up in the waste stream as soon as they are no longer shiny and new” (Connell).
Dave Connell takes aim at the fact of the disposable nature of the cell phones that Apple and companies affiliated with Google (such as HTC) produce. The limited lives of these products increase spending among the population dramatically. A prime example of the limited life span of these products is the fact that they have limited battery life. Dave Connell lists this as one of the reasons why these devices are disposable. Say one purchases an iPhone with their new cell phone plan. In the best-case scenario, they could afford the item at the time of purchase. However, the battery wears down the second that the iPhone is put into use, and the iPhone does not allow the purchaser to change the battery. According to PCWorld, the iPhone 3G, after being run through their standard talk-time battery life test, found that on average the life on a single charge was 5 hours, 38 minutes (PCWorld). According to CIO.com, a site meant for information officers and IT leaders, one would “typically get 250 to 500 charge cycles before the lithium ion battery has outlived its usefulness” (CIO). If the two statistics are combined, the average life of an iPhone 3G is from 1,407 hours to 2,185 hours. However, this only represents using the phone for talking and recharging the battery when needed. Internet and other media drain the battery at a faster rate, and charging the battery before it has been completely drained wears down the battery at a faster rate. In any case, once the battery is dead, if the phone is out of warranty, it costs $85.95 per unit to get the battery replaced by Apple (Apple). After living with the phone and having its features be part of a lifestyle for so long, many hand over the $85.95 to get the battery replaced, or in the worst financial case, go and buy a new iPhone for around $300.00. Once this replacement happens, e-waste is produced. The phones are disposable, and many people don't think about where they go when they are completely dead.
The modern spending habits, consumerism ideals, and mindset of affluence increase the amount of electronic waste produced each year. The iPhone example represents a single phone in the mobile phone market. A lot of people purchase these phones with no idea on what they will do with them when they die. A lot of people trade them in or just throw them away once they don't need them anymore. Throwing away any electronic device is harmful to the environment. People convince themselves that they need to have a lot of devices to fill the void in their lives. Sadly, when people's devices die or become useless to them, most people will just throw their devices away, instead of paying the small fee to fix them up or donating them to someone else who could use the device until it has become completely dead. Computers are a prime example of devices that usually have a lot of life left in them when they are disposed of. Their modular nature also makes them easy to fix up and give to others, or re-purpose. Richard Morrison, a writer for the Times Online, gives an example of taking his four-year-old laptop to get serviced, and the man working at the computer store explained how the laptop would be worthless to fix and stated, “in this business, anything older than 18 months is obsolete” (Morrison). The idea that after 18 months the computer is obsolete and can't be fixed up is a fallacy that produces e-waste. In my personal experience, I have fixed up 10-year-old computers for people, which run just fine for the purposes that they use the computers for. The fact that 10-year-old computers can function for families that use them for normal, everyday uses like word processing and internet browsing, proves that computers are not obsolete 18 months after they are purchased. Morrison also brings to light the question, “Does anybody buy a car, a washing machine, even a toaster, in the expectation that it will last a decade? As for computers, mobile phones, iPods and all the other electronic paraphernalia of our gizmo-fixated age, well, the philosophy among manufacturers seems to be that since punters will surely want to 'upgrade' every 12 months, there's no reason, let alone obligation, to make products that last any longer” (Morrison). The last statement about people (punters) wanting to upgrade their devices every 12 months is what leads to the downward spiral of shoddy products and increased electronic waste. The companies that produce electronic products embrace and support the idea of upgrading every 12 months. Their sales will increase, and the economy will boom but it will be at the expense of the consumer's finances. This mindset will also allow the companies to produce cheaper, lower-quality products and get away with it because most consumers won't keep their product until it reaches its full life span, once again saving corporate funds. However, most of the time, especially with computers, the devices can be fixed and upgraded without purchasing a new device, even in Richard Morrison's case with his 4-year-old laptop. Computers are an easy example, because their modular nature makes them easy to upgrade without purchasing a new one. In fact for most people's purposes, simple upgrades can enhance their computing experience. Most people believe that since their computer is getting “slow,” the computer itself is getting old, and that after 18 months, it is obsolete. The computer may slow down in the perspective of a “power user”, like a graphic designer, gamer or video editor, who consistently needs the newest most advanced software. However, these users tend to know what they need to make their computer perform at the level that they need. The average user, who uses their computer simply for typing documents, surfing the Internet, or playing music, can extend the life of their computer up to 10 years with simple upgrades along the way. However, many users discard their computer every few years without realizing they can upgrade cheaply and save the computer from a landfill. According to Anne Maczulak, “Americans discard around 130,000,000 cell phones and 50,000,000 computers each year” (Maczulak). The idea of upgrading is inviting to those who like the idea of having the most technologically advanced electronics on the market. However, even those who enjoy the new technology should take a step back and look at what they actually use the device for. To a lot of people, purchasing a new electronic good is inviting and is often the easiest route, but some people can save money and the environment by finding a way to fix their current electronic product and researching if it can perform the function that they wish or finding another person that could use the product. Solutions need to be put into place to deal with the over-consuming nature of our world and make sure electronic waste is reduced by getting the full life time out of our electronic products.
Electronic waste has a definite correlation with people's “new-found” needs. The more people feel the need to buy, buy, buy, the more “aged” electronics end up in the dump, harming the environment and all living species. The so-called recycling solution that brought electronic waste to the attention of many environmental organizations and politicians is the solution that is not even recycling. The “solution” involves shipping electronic waste to countries with low environmental regulations, where it is burned and the precious metals are harvested. Most of the time, the companies that utilize the burning method to dispose of their products are not the manufacturers of the products, but third- party recyclers. Recently, governments and other organizations like one in Tondo, Manilla, Philippines, are cracking down on electronic waste transportation and handling. An excerpt from the article “Hazards of Electronic Waste Disposal Cited” from the Manila Bulletin reads:
“a dumpsite investigation at the Pier 18 garbage transfer station in Tondo, Manila, the Ecological Waste Coalition (EcoWaste) said it found waste reclaimers searching for valuable recyclable materials from end-of-life linear and compact fluorescent lamps, computer circuit boards and other discarded electrical and electronic items, oblivious to the chemical hazards they pose.
'Our investigation confirms the apparent lack of regulation and system that will curb the improper disposal of e-wastes and the perilous recycling taking place in dumpsites and junkshops” (Manilla).
The EcoWaste group is one of the many groups trying to stop the mishandling of electronic waste. They are also taking action, like in Tondo, Manila. When electronic waste is handled improperly, the effects can be devastating, because all the toxins from the electronics are released into the atmosphere or onto the land. Usually this process is done in third world countries, such as China and India. Most of the people who take part in this process don't wear respiratory protection. The fumes from the process affect all parts of the human body, and the by-products can harm the environment. Illustration 1 is a picture of a man who is burning electronic wastes without regard to his body or the environment. As mentioned in the caption, the leftover acids get dumped into the river, further harming the environment. However there are proposed government bans on the situation, making improper handling of e-waste harder to do. The European Union already has regulations regarding e-waste transfer and disposal, in place and President Barack Obama “expressed support for federal laws regulating electronic-waste disposal and reducing the use of toxic chemicals in manufacturing products. 'We can also challenge manufacturers of computers, printers and other electronic equipment to more effectively take back these products when they are discarded so that their components can be reused rather than shipped to landfills'” (Harbert). The government's plan helps eliminate e-waste on a national level and can even support the economy in a different fashion. These environmental regulations can increase business in the e-waste recycling sector. However, instead of at the cost of the consumers, it would be at the cost of the corporations that need to do the recycling.