Giving e-waste a second life

By Lauren Davis
Thursday, 22 February, 2018

Giving e-waste a second life

Social enterprise, makerspace and e-waste recycling facility Substation33 improves the mental health and wellbeing of its participants while also enabling them to give back to create something new out of something old, according to QUT researcher Dr Dhaval Vyas.

As explained by Dr Vyas, “Traditional makerspaces are technology solution-focused and cater for a more affluent group and often fail to provide benefits for LSE [low socioeconomic] people.

“I’m investigating how the social and cultural nature of makerspaces enables creative and innovative work while supporting members.”

“The aim here is to engage people in worthwhile work activities, who are marginalised from mainstream employment,” said Tony Sharp, development manager social enterprise, Substation33. “Our thing here is about education around electronic waste; that electronic waste isn’t actually waste. It can be upcycled, repurposed and made into something that’s innovative.

“So typically in Australia we class electronic waste as computers, all things that plug into computers or televisions. At Substation we class anything that had a plug or a battery. So I’m talking about DVD players, and stereos, and toasters, and microwaves. Everything that had a plug or a battery is the stuff that we’re looking for.

“We process about 150,000 kg of electronic waste every year, with only 5% having a final destination of landfill, and we’ve been operating now for nearly six years.”

Dr Vyas revealed that members of Substation33 — including volunteers, welfare recipients and those on the Work for the Dole scheme — have designed and made innovative technology such as solar-powered road signs that record flood levels, green bicycles that run on refurbished laptop batteries, 3D printers, power wells built into recycling paint cans and more.

“The idea [of the power wells] is that people can charge their phones and charge their lights,” said Substation33 volunteer Bradley Clair, now a trainer and mentor at the facility. “So this would make a huge difference in villages without power in Indonesia. Over the next six months we want to try and install 100 power wells into villages without power.”

Dr Vyas noted that such technology would in other circumstances typically be designed by professional designers, who typically conduct their work with mainstream, affluent users in mind.

“The creativity inherent in everyone is often left untapped or unnurtured, especially in the members from LSE backgrounds,” he said.

“This project aims to uncover and explore design by a diversity of people from marginalised backgrounds, to make products that suit their own needs and ones they can commercialise.”

The initiative has already proved beneficial for Clair, a business student who previously had no experience in electronics.

“It wasn’t until I was working with electrical engineers and a whole group of mentors here, they taught me a whole lot about electronics, and that’s how I developed the skills and the knowledge to build a power well,” he said.

Dr Vyas has received an ARC DECRA award for his project, and he plans to use the grant to conduct an in-depth study of the benefits of DIY activities for people from LSE backgrounds at high risk of digital exclusion.

“My research focuses on understanding how makerspaces can help people from low socioeconomic backgrounds, people who are marginalised, financially marginalised, and how these makerspaces and making activities can actually help them to probably find a job or do something good in their lives,” he said.

Images courtesy of QUT media

Originally published here.

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