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Why we care about recycling

We recently published a piece in Wired World 2018 on the massive challenges posed by electronic waste and specifically how electronics recyclers may struggle to keep up.

Promoting community repair, it might seem that we are at odds with recyclers – by trying to divert electronics from waste. But our recent research together with Nottingham Trent University shows that people who attend Restart Parties appear to be more likely to recycle electronics than the average – but even so, they are less avid recyclers of electronics than other things. (This is an area that deserves greater research and attention.)

We have a keen interest in electronics recycling for the simple reason that the harder it is to recycle something, the harder it is to fix it first. Fixers have similar needs to recyclers – ease of disassembly and documentation for disassembly.

We believe that electronics recycling should not become dominated by a few large companies, or even producers themselves. While we were dazzled by Liam, Apple’s recycling robot, Apple simply cannot take back everything it puts into the world. The recycling ecosystem must be as big and complex as the retail and repair ecosystems. And it’s important for us to understand how they all link together to help or hinder a better use of the planet’s resources.

Past and future

It’s important not to forget the innovative, grassroots origins of recycling in the UK – we talked to researcher Adrian Smith about this in one of our first podcasts.

Looking to the future, we have some ideas about how to increase collection rates of electronics: making it clearer that in Europe, the buyer pays for recycling at purchase, making it easier to find out how to recycle, among others.

Lastly, we remain really interested in global flows of non-new electronics – look out for an upcoming podcast with geographer Josh Lepawsky on these themes. His new book “Reassembling Rubbish” (forthcoming on MIT Press) will be big contribution towards a greater understanding of what happens to electronics after their first sale.

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