This post is part of Global Wire Associates’ Recharge E-Waste Campaign.
So, you have a box in the corner of your closet or in your basement piled high with broken or “gently used” electronics, gadgets and wires you don’t use anymore. You are thinking about taking that box down to your local recycling center and (maybe) get a rebate for your good deed of saving the planet. However, you would be doing a better deed for the planet if you learned how to repair and reuse your old electronics.
Leading the “repair is recycling” movement is iFixit, a website where you can find free repair manuals for virtually every electronic on the planet. In the largely community-run site, users can both add information to guides and asks questions about issues not offered in the guides. The website funds itself by selling useful service parts and tool kits for repairing electronics. Self-repair not only saves money that would have otherwise been used to purchase new electronics, but it also helps the environment.
Even if you take your old electronics to recycling sites, there is no guarantee they will be recycled properly. Most e-waste ends up in landfills throughout the developing world, where it wrecks havoc on the health of those who live near it. This is partly because it is expensive and labor-intensive to properly recycle e-waste in many developed countries, as most environmental laws in these countries require e-recyclers to use environmentally friendly processes.
According to iFixit:
But labor is cheap in the developing world. And those pesky environmental laws don’t exist everywhere. Containers full of outdated electronics are regularly shipped to places like China and Nigeria where people scrounge through the dead electronics looking for bits and pieces that are useful. After scavengers pick out the worthwhile bits, ‘extractors’ start breaking things apart. They can make a living breaking down electronics harvesting copper from wires and gold from electrical connectors. But without environmentally friendly processes, the nasty chemicals from the extraction process seeps into the groundwater and remnant broken electronic scrap litter the landscape.
Here is a video from Greenpeace that explains the e-waste problem in Nigeria
Meanwhile, iFixit recently launched a new website – ifixit.org – for discussions on e-waste activism and specifically showcasing the arduous work of the brave extractors or “fixers,” like the Ghanaian man featured in the headlining photo above. The website will eventually be a launching pad for a documentary film about the lives of fixers in Egypt, Kenya, Ghana and India.