The Problem of Electronic Waste

Learn more about the problem, and some ways that you can help.

  • Mounting Concerns over Electronic Waste,” EnviroZine: Environment Canada’s On-line Newsmagazine, Issue 33, Feature 1 (2003-06-26). “Electronics are being replaced every day with faster and smaller devices, and yet few are recycled after these products become obsolete. As a result, mountains of electronic waste are piling up in landfills across Canada. Of even greater concern is that most electronic equipment contains toxic substances such as lead, cadmium and mercury. These heavy metals and other substances found in electronic products can pose elevated risks to human health and the environment if they are not properly managed.”
  • E-waste Dumping Ground,” CBC News, Environment / Science Feature Page, video, running time: 18:53 (22 October 2008). “A dangerous underground electronics recycling industry employs China’s vulnerable migrant workers. And Canadians export the raw materials to them.”
  • Giles Slade, Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America. (Harvard, 2007).
  • Elizabeth Grossman, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health. (Shearwater, 2007).
  • Electronics Product Stewardship Canada. “EPS Canada is a not-for-profit organization working to design, promote and implement sustainable solutions for Canada’s electronic waste problem.”
  • Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. “Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition is a diverse organization engaged in research, advocacy and grassroots organizing to promote human health and environmental justice in response to the rapid growth of the high-tech industry.”
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Your Old Gadgets, “Wired How-To Wiki (2 April 2009). “Most of us grew up with the Environmental Protection Agency’s friendly “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” motto — but when it comes to gadgets, being environmentally responsible isn’t quite so easy. That’s because electronics are neither easy for manufacturers to create nor simple for recyclers to disassemble. On top of that, laws on handling e-waste are inconsistent between countries, states and even cities. Long story short, the biggest problem with recycling gadgets is it’s confusing as hell for consumers. “
  • Electronic Waste” from Wikipedia.

Environmental Data Streams

A few sources for live environmental data.

  • PopClocks. An RSS feed of daily US and World Population Estimates from the US Census Bureau.
  • Canada Weather Forecasts. RSS feeds for local weather forecasts, listed alphabetically by place, from
  • Feeds and Web Displays of Watches, Warnings, and Advisories. An experimental service from the National Weather Service, US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  • Environmental Health News. How to get an RSS feed from EHN.
  • Environmental Data Interactive Exchange. “Edie (Environmental Data Interactive Exchange) is an online resource for environmental professionals, researchers and all those with an interest in green issues, bringing together practical information and in-depth yet accessible news. ”
  • Toxic Trade News from Basel Action Network. (No RSS feed, but easy to do screen scraping.)
  • National Pollutant Release Inventory from Environment Canada. “Canada’s legislated, publicly accessible inventory of pollutant releases (to air, water and land), disposals and transfers for recycling.” An online database which allows searching by postal code, by substance, or by industrial sector.
  • Chemical Substances Portal of Canada. “How and where are chemical substances getting into our air, water and food, and at what levels are they found? How much exposure might we have to a given chemical substance? What happens after its use and disposal? What might short or long term exposure mean? What do advancements in research tell us we did not know before?”
  • Taking Stock: 2004 North American Pollutant Releases and Transfers. Report and database from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. “Industrial facilities in North America are required to report their emissions of toxic chemicals to national databases called Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs). These databases are designed to track the quantities of chemicals that are released to the air, land or water, or transferred to another site for recycling, treatment or disposal. … Taking Stock is an annual report that supports these goals by analyzing comparable data from Canada, Mexico and the United States to present a North American picture of industrial pollution. The report and its searchable database allow users the opportunity to compare and analyze the releases and transfers of toxic chemicals by location, chemical or facility. Users can also customize their search to compare releases to air, land or water.”
  • United Nations Global Environmental Outlook Data Portal. “The GEO Data Portal is the authoritative source for data sets used by UNEP and its partners in the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) report and other integrated environment assessments. Its online database holds more than 450 different variables, as national, subregional, regional and global statistics or as geospatial data sets (maps), covering themes like Freshwater, Population, Forests, Emissions, Climate, Disasters, Health and GDP.”
  • Severe Weather Information Centre. “The information in this World Meteorological Organization (WMO) website is based on advisories issued by Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres (RSMCs) and Tropical Cyclone Warning Centres (TCWCs), and official warnings issued by National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) for their respective countries or regions.”
  • MeteoAlarm: Alerting Europe for Extreme Weather. From Eumetnet, the Network of European Meteorological Services.
  • World Mapper. “Worldmapper is a collection of world maps, where territories are re-sized on each map according to the subject of interest.”
  • New York Times newswire API. Requires development key.
  • World Bank API. Requires development key to access an enormous amount of economic data.

Sources of Inspiration

These links were given to the participants to explore before the workshop.

Hardware hacking

Junkbots, robots and automata

Ubiquitous computing


Information arts