Writing you today from the American Tap Dance Foundation with completely un-related E-waste news while Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire plays intermittently in one of the practice rooms, a silly choice for a kids tap class, but I digress…
Ever had a broken electronic device and wanted to fix it, but stopped because you heard something about how doing so would void the warranty or something like that?
Well, I’m here to let you know that there’s a group of people advocating for you so you can have the option to fix your own electronics without the risk of being disowned by your electronics manufacturer. Its seems silly that is a right we do not have (like the right to know if the food you buy contains GMOs), but its good to know some people are out there who care an awful lot and want to empower people to fix their own gadgets rather than being a slave to the manufacturers.
I’ve only just begun to research this topic and will write more as I learn more. To clarify why this issue is important to me and this blog, it is the connection between electronics and chimpanzees/gorillas–that is, our electronics are made with materials that come from chimpanzee and gorilla habitats in Africa. These habitats are being disturbed and degraded due to mining activity. If we can re-use and recycle electronics, there will be less need to mine for materials in these habitats. So, lets do that.
For now, I wanted to just share the idea and a link to the Right to Repair website so you can look into it if you’re interested in learning about the topic or want to start fixing your own gadgets.
Earlier in this blog I talked about the concept of Urban Mining and a company called IFixit which provides tool-kits and free instruction manuals to walk you through fixing things like broken smart phone screens. Their goal is to encourage re-use of electronics and reduce waste.
As usual, if you have any questions or comments I invite you to comment below. I’m curious to see if anyone has any input on this issue…
I am writing you in the pleasant afterglow of a fruitful craigslist adventure which ultimately landed me walking as gracefully as Bigfoot down a hair-show runway with bubblegum pink bangs and has left me today with an envelope full of chopped locks to donate and November rent.
After growing my hair for the past 5ish years without dying it, and having the intention to someday donate it, this odd job, made possible by good ol’ Craigslist, allowed all my hair donation dreams to come true. See once long hair in photo below, apologies for the selfie.
Hearing some questionable feedback about Locks of Love, a prominent hair donation organization, I decided to go with Wigs 4 Kids per the suggestion of the ALOXXI hair team, the one’s responsible for my new doo and this poor model’s sore cranium.
Apparently, Locks of Love, though a “non-profit,” charges some kids for their wigs, whereas Wigs 4 Kids provides all wigs at no cost, also offering services like counselling and enrichment activities to kids and their families.
Also good to know, Wigs 4 Kids asks for 10” instead of 12” (what I thought I’d have to cut) and will accept hair as short as 7-9” for short hairstyled wigs. I haven’t done a ton of fact checking about the Locks of Love controversy, but since I have’t heard anything bad about Wigs 4 Kids and they had a lenient hair length, I’m gonna err on the side of caution on this one and send my tresses to this Michigan based non-profit instead of Locks of Love. In case you or anyone you know is thinking of donating hair, I thought I’d mention this subject.
Which leads me to my other subject:
Roots and Shoots Urban Mining Workshop
As mentioned at the start of this blog, I’m working towards somehow combining the topics of tap dance, electronic waste recycling, and ape conservation.
A few months ago, a little progress was made when I teamed up with a lovely lass named Emily Duda to host an Urban Mining workshop at Barnes & Noble to raise awareness of the impacts of electronics on ape habitats.
Electronics are produced the expense of Chimpanzees, Gorillas, and humans living in Africa, which is not fair.
To elaborate a bit:
Metals inside our phones, computers, and tablets come from the parts of Africa where Chimps and Gorillas live. These habitats are being damaged through the mining process, endangering the survival of these 2 great species.
People who mine these materials often work in sub-safe conditions, receiving ridiculously low wages for the work put in. Furthermore, the influx of people moving into these previosly untouched areas for work as the electronics industry grows has also paved the way for poachers to come in and snag Chimps and Gorillas for the Illegal Pet and Bushmeat trade.
Its not good.
But the situation can improve…
What can we do, those of us living far away from the conflict?
Its a bit of a hassle to properly dispose of electronics these days, but its important to do so. We must work to bring balance to the force, young padawans.
Though I’m not sure if electronics manufacturers are actually USING recycled materials in new products, a point brought up by a much appreciated skeptic at the workshop, the act of recycling will inevitably make the supply of recycled materials more available for manufacturers to use. It will at least give manufacturers the option to incorporate recycled materials into new products instead of continuously importing raw materials.
Hopefully as time goes on it will become easier for the consumer, me and you, to properly dispose of electronic waste. It’s a dream of mine, to live in a world like that.
For now, you may need to do a little research to find out where to recycle used electronics locally, and you will likely have to take a trip to a store or recycling center to do so. If you need help figuring it out, reach out either through a comment or message on the contact page of this site and I’d be happy to help you navigate.
In New York City, a pilot program has been launched to provide curbside pick-up of electronic waste upon request. I think this is very cool and hope more cities are introducing or already have similar programs. If you know anything on the subject, please share the info, thank you!
Now, a little more about the Barnes and Noble workshop, my first foray into eco-prostelytism:
Our event was part of the Barnes & Noble Bookfair program which allowed us to fundraise in addition to reaching an audience. Our goal was to spread the good word about Electronic Waste Recycling and raise money for Emily’s project: Camp Friendship, an afterschool and summer program that connects city kids with nature.
With a generous donation of toolkits from IFixit, a company working to reduce electronic waste by developing repair manuals and tool-kits for the lay-man, and using a workshop guide provided by FairPhone (which I’ve written about before here), we set up shop in the kids book section of Barnes and Noble and tried to engage as many people as possible in the discussion of whats inside our phones.
In case you’re curious, Emily and I found each-other using a mapping tool available on the Roots and Shoots website which helps ape conservation nerds and Jane Gooddall enthusiasts connect on a local level. Roots and Shoots, by the way, is a program created by the Jane Gooddall Institute to engage kids in conservation, to “raise the next generation of conservation thinkers.”
All in all I don’t think we raised much money for either cause, but we certainly did talk to a handful of people about electronic waste recycling, whats inside phones, and where these materials come from. Hopefully the ideas will sink in to the folks we reached and from there momentum can grow.
Any anyway, the kids who trickled in had a great time taking apart old phones and exploring the insides with the tiny tools donated by IFixit.
The phones used in this workshop were a combination of broken smart phones I was able to collect from my apartment building neighbors and several old school flip phones donated by the Gowanus E-waste warehouse in Brooklyn.
Ultimately, I was hoping to get the kids to connect their phones with the idea that whats inside their phones comes from where Chimpanzees live. Using the FairPhone workshop manual, I used the following graphics to engage in this discussion. It went over way better with the parents…
The whole manual can be found here. I was particularly entertained by one child who was stoked on the silicon number pads inside an old flip phone. I hadn’t thought of if before, but kids these days are missing out on the tactile element of phones because smart phones don’t have buttons, just screens.
Well, thats all I’ve got for now. I’ll leave you with a little something I made out of the workshop remnants.
Hello all and happy Memorial Day. I hope you’re feelin’ groovy and not too traumatized by my last post about turtle noses and plastic straws. Got a new topic for you, one that connects many dots for this blog and gives me mucho hope and confidence in a sustainable future for the us and the apes, who are one.
Fair Trade Electronics
So, you’ve heard of fair trade coffee, right?
And perhaps fair trade chocolate?
But how ’bout fair trade electronics??
According to internet sources, and the lovely Jane Gooddall (see video), some very key components of electronics come from Chimpanzee and Gorilla habitat in the Democratic Repubic of Congo. Thats over in Africa–(great song), see map below, DRC is in red:
It is in this region that Chimpanzees and Gorillas roam wild and free, and where today, large and small scale (artisinal) mining operations are moving in to extract minerals like Cobalt, Tungsten, and “rare Rarth metals” including Coltan, or Tantalite, which are all used in the making of electronic devices.
People are moving into once uninhabited areas in order to make a living through mining–cant blame ’em for that, baby’s gotta eat. Unfortunately, however, an unintended consequence of this migration is habitat destruction and species loss. People even hunt Chimpanzees and Gorillas for eating or selling on the illegal pet trade and bushmeat markets. Sad. Look, this chimp is pouting about it:
Here are some photos of these materials which are essential to the functioning of our electronics and represent much conflict:
And a photo of a two different Cobolt mining operations, one industrial and one artisanal:
To clarify, the difference between Industrial and Artisanal mining is the Industrial operations are organized by large, often foreign companies, while the Artisanal operations are conducted by individual miners.
There are issues with both levels of operation. Ultimately, not only is land and habitat being ravaged, or at least altered, through the mining process, but also people, child laborers included, are working under dangerous conditions for less than fair wages to supply us with these materials. Here is a video that explains the extractive/mining industry and the perspective of artisanal miners:
For me, the main takeaway from the clip above is from 1:44 til 3:14, a segment which reveals an artisanal Cobalt mine and a discussion with miners about working conditions and wages.
Because they are not part of a company or union, these miners have no representation on the market and often end up getting ripped off by buyers, most often Chinese companies, who buy at low prices and then make a profit, reselling the materials to electronics manufacturers at a 30% markup (statistic provided in video).
The miners, who often enter a mine and stay in there for 2-3 days at a time, feel they are not receiving fair pay, especially considering the profits other people are making off of their labor, the price of finished electronics, and the rate of electronics consumption worldwide. They would like to be paid fairly. I can dig it.
Now, I’m not sure if “fair trade electronics” is an official term, but the concept is there, and leading the way is a Netherlands based company called Fairphone.
Fairphone, founded in 2013, is pioneering the movement towards fair-trade electronics by changing the industry from the inside, providing an ethical alternative to all other cell phones on the market, the Fairphone.
Through painstaking research and partnerships with organizations like the Dragonfly Initiative, who advise businesses in the “extractive industry” on sustainable purchasing, Fariphone has made an effort to purchase from with “Conflict-Free” mining operations that do not use child-labor, who pay their workers fairly, and who strive to reduce their environmental imapct.
Although Fairphone does not boast to have a 100% fair phone, they are working towards that goal and at least provide a “fair-er” alternative to other smart phones on the market, creating a demand for fair electronics. Their goal is to promote “positive social and environmental impact[s] from the beginning to end of a phones life cycle” by incorporating long lasting design, fair materials, good working conditions, and promoting reuse and recycling (Fairphone Goals).
So, thats about all I’ve got to say about that. Fairphone is paving the way for all electronics to bear the Fair-Trade certification. If you are considering a new smartphone, consider Fairphone and help build the movement.
I also wanted to mention the importance of recycling E-waste. According to a video I saw on facebook, only about 15% of electronics are recycled. That is not very much. Considering how much work goes into extracting the materials that go into our electronics, considering that little children and chimpanzee are suffering in order to bring us the latest version of the Iphone, the least we can do is make an effort to discard our electronics correctly, ie make sure they are recycled, not junked in the trash. There is actually gold in our electronics, are we really going to throw gold into the garbage?! Times, they are a changin. Those 49er gold-miners must be rolling in their graves.
Now, I realize electronic waste recycling is not easy or convenient. I don’t know of any city that provides municipal electronic waste collection, so that leaves it to you and me, the consumers, to go the extra mile to bring our electronic waste to an e-waste recycler. That takes effort, I know, its annoying. But its our responsability, and perhaps the price we have to pay for all the work that goes in on the front end to bring us relatively cheap electronics (considering the labor and environmental costs that go into production).
Ok, off the soap box.
Recycle your electronics. Don’t let me find them on the ground or I will make art with them.
Cheers to progress, peace, and love, and a happy day to you,