Rio+20 Tech Report: The Great E-waste Challenge

This post is part of Global Wire Associates’ Recharge E-Waste Campaign.

We were quite busy last week attending a dizzying number of lectures at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro.  While Rio+20 was the largest UN gathering ever, many people feel that it was a big waste of time, due to there being no major agreements to come out of it.

We can see why some people feel this way.  Take for example the Rio+Social webcast.  While the discussion about social media’s role in sustainable development was interesting, there really wasn’t anything brought up that most technologists and environmentalists didn’t know about already before the webcast.  Furthermore, listening to dozens of bloviating UN officials, businessmen and celebrities who were not making any real calls to actions just got tiresome after a while.

One can’t always say “the future we want” when no one is really saying what future they want.

Luckily, we found some people in the U.S. Center, making a call to action on e-waste.

The U.S. Environment Protection Agency, along with the U.S. State Department and the Brazilian bank Itau Unibanco, announced the launch of an e-waste challenge to generate solutions for this pressing technology problem.  The challenge will be run on OpenIDEO, an online platform that crowdsources ideas for big social problems, such as increasing a bone marrow registry and prototyping an ultrasound center in Colombia.  The goal here is to find similar results for e-waste management.

“The e-waste problem, however, is a growing one as people around the world rely more on electronic devices,” said Walker Smith, Director of the Office of Global Affairs and Policy in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs, to the EPA’s Greenversations blog.  “The e-waste challenge is designed to harness the imagination and creativity of the virtual community to come up with more solutions to reduce and manage e-waste.”

Here’s how it works.  Organizations or individuals can approach OpenIDEO with a idea for a challenge.  Once the challenge is posted on, it goes through three development phrases.

Inspiration: “Users post inspiring things that they already see out there that might help solve the big question”  In this case, the big question is “How can we manage e-waste & discarded electronics to safeguard human health & protect our environment?”  Ideas can be as simple as a few comments or elaborate with videos, sketches, photos and even full-blown business models.

Conception: Users give their thoughts on possible solutions based on the inspiring ideas and how to make them a reality.

Evaluation: Users vote on the best ideas from the conception phrase that could realistically be solutions.  Concepts that get the most votes win.  The winning concepts will be used by the challenge sponsor(s).  So there is a great chance that the EPA, the State Department and Itau Unibanco will put the winning idea to work.  There is no prize, per se, but the real prize comes in the form of recognition of creating a brilliant solution to a global problem that will support the greater good.

The winning concepts for the e-waste challenge will be announced on August 30, 2012.  Visit the e-waste challenge website to add your inspiration and follow the discussion on Twitter.

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