Wk 7: 3/4 -3/11

Updates for this week: a.) Finish the ‘Making’ kiosk!, b.) Watch +2 thesis presentations, c.) Make midterm presentations, d.) Update rfid tag code, e.) Be upset…then recalibrate plan based on COVID-19/remote school

a.) Finish the ‘Making’ kiosk!

Fabrication-wise, this week has been about finally finishing up the first kiosk. All that was left was building the top frame to house both the scanning slot and the screen. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. Nonetheless it is done! There is some sanding and painting left but I think I should leave that for later, especially now that there’s a rush to work remote.

b.) Watch +2 thesis presentations

I chose to watch the thesis presentations of Jasmine Soltani, Aaron Parsekian, and Mathura Govindarajan mostly because their topics are similar to the work I am doing and plan to continue doing. I especially wanted to watch Jasmine’s because I have been emailing/talking with her throughout my research process and she has been incredibly helpful in providing references. Before this COVID-19, we (ITP Trash) were even trying to get her and Aaron to lead a teardown on our floor.

Jasmine Soltani

Jasmine’s thesis video


  • Embodied energy of electronics: mining of raw material, manufacturing, transportation, retails; Embodied energy refers to energy consumed at all these phases. 
  • She set out to create a tool to easily compare embodied energy of electronic components
  • Need to personally look into “Greener guide”
  • Thinking about obsolete objects

Biggest Takeaways:

  • While I knew that Jasmine’s thesis was about e-waste, this was the first time I watched her thesis talk. It proved to be extremely helpful. I enjoy the fact that are outputs are so different yet our concerns are very similar.
  • I loved that she also talked about the issue and research itself. It wasn’t just about her project but also about the research she had done. It was fabulous because it felt like a lecture on the embodied energy and life cycle in electronics. Unfortunate it was only 10 minutes because I’m sure she could’ve talked more about her research.
  • She mentions ITP Power. Note to self: mention ITP Trash team in thank you slide!

Aaron Parsekian

Aaron’s thesis video


  • Personal challenge: do something high tech using nothing but trash
  • Environmental impact of technology → cynical
  • High tech equipment is a blessing → but can we do without? 
  • Only used easily obtained recycled materials
  • Return to fundamentals of tech → focus on materials 
  • How it is eco-friendly → environmental impact

Biggest Takeaways:

  • The choice of materials and minerals is so important. This is a helpful note.
  • Being aware of how to not be wasteful is a key part of his thesis
  • It is important to mention the environmental impact that all our physical creations have

Mathura M Govindarajan

Mathura’s thesis video


  • Like that she notes how electronics engineering is extremely interesting but acknowledges that it is also unapproachable, especially for kids
  • Nice line! – “Kindle the same curiosity of electronics as opening a Christmas gift”
  • She is very clear about who it is for and her process
  • Walks through a.)metrics she had, b.)audience, c.) research/inspiration, d.) storyboard, e.) feedback 
  • 1st user testing at NY Hall of Science
    • It was very great that she included actual quotes from the kids she user tested from
  • Created a super demo video of the book and how to interact with it→ amazing! 
  • 2nd user testing
    • Good that people didn’t use it the way she expected. She framed this unpredictable behavior in a positive light
  • Mentions the 2nd version of the book she wants to make. Wonderful looking forward idea. It is specific enough of a future plan that I really think she will make it.

c.) Make Midterm Presentations

Creating a coherent midterm presentation actually took more time than expected but also proved to be very helpful. It was a good exercise in trying to synthesize all the work that has been done and to frame it in the bigger picture of my life/body of work.

Midterm presentation slides are here

d.) Update the code for the RFID Tag

It’s been a while since I touched the code for the RFID tag. I also needed to see if the RFID would still scan if there was pegboard and wood covering it. Turns out it still does read very well even with a bunch of pegboard covering it.

Updated code for that is here

e.) Be Sad + Recalibrate

Being sad is actually a super necessary step to moving forward. I’m just upset at a lot of things… I’m upset at how COVID-19 is effecting the feasibility of thesis. I’m upset that I spent a lot of tuition money and will have students loans for a program that is now online. I’m upset at how our government has been handling this pandemic. I’m upset that in a time like this our government has hesitated/doesn’t know how to provide free testing. I’m upset at how democratic primaries are going. I’m upset that the one candidate who would fight and has fought for universal healthcare is being outvoted somehow. I’m upset that people in certain professions are putting themselves in danger. I’m upset that people in certain professions will not be able to work but financially need to. I’m upset so many people have already passed because of this. I’m upset because this epidemic reminds me of a small scale version of what’ll happen when the climate crisis is so bad that there’s really no point in anything. I’m upset at the state of the world and the many stupid things we do, including myself (but not at the enormous scale that governments and corporations operate at), for the sake of convenience and greed. 

(I’ve also started reading ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ this week so I might be spiraling.)

Despite it all, I feel grateful for my specific situation and for the fact that my family is relatively healthy.

In terms of recalibration, I’ve brought the one kiosk that is done home. Other than that, idk exactly what I’ll do about anything.

Made to Break: Notes

This book is such a good read and while it doesn’t focus solely on electronic waste – it is eye opening to understand how planned obsolescence started and how this business model still effects us today.

In “Made to Break”, Giles Slade examines the history of how obsolescence came to existence. Before the Industrial Revolution gave rise to manufacturing, society was not used to making more than it needed. With these machines that overproduced, companies needed a way to figure out how to stand out amongst the millions more options amongst consumers. That’s where packaging design, branding and logos came in. By placing a trademark symbol, consumers would think that products were of a certain quality.

The culture of disposable products came with the rise of machines. What used to be reused many times, was now made and promoted to be disposable. For example, handkerchief became disposable tissues, pocket watches became so easy to make they were $1 at some point, razors for shaving used to last a long time but were then converted to disposable ones. Fun fact – condoms used to be made of sheep intestines and would be reused! Then came the invention of rubber and rubber condoms! Who would’ve thought?!

The point is, companies advertised products in a way that society came to value and appreciate a product to be convenient and disposable. This is all a response to their worry of not being able to sell all that they were able to make.

More notes: here

Recycle, incinerate or landfill? What are the best options for electronic goods? Notes

More notes on this paper: here


When an electronic item is recycled in America, it either becomes shredded and sorted into mineral feedstock or it is exported (without consumers knowing) to other countries where it is scavenged for pieces in extremely unsafe ways that are both damaging to human health and the environment. Seeing as how bad the exporting option is, I have thought about what happens if it does just end up in landfills? Would it be that bad? Answer is yes – it would be bad. I don’t know if it’s worse than exporting to countries with lax labor and environmental laws, but it’s pretty bad. If e-waste was in landfill there are many potentially harmful substances that could leach through into the ground or evaporate into the atmosphere. Electrical products account for 40% of the lead found in landfills.

Which is the lesser of the two evils – landfill or incineration?

Incineration saves space but the pollution that incineration produces is harmful. The pollution that incinerators produce especially when harmful materials like Lead and Mercury are burnt which is the case in e-waste. Most of the chemicals are toxic and harmful in nature and also contain heavy metals. Incinerators are more harmful than the exhaust coming from cars because the low concentration of metals emitted by incinerators is very toxic for metals such as Cadmium. The smaller the size of particles the more harmful it is to human health.

How much of e-waste is recycled?

As I am attempting to diagram the electronic trash network, I realize that I still don’t have a clear idea of the percentage of electronics that are discarded in regular trash versus recycled. I also don’t know what the consequences are when electronics are in landfills or incinerators. All I know is that it can’t be good for human health or the environment. So, I set about trying to do a little more research on that today. Below are notes and links that help answer the question of how much of electronic waste ends up in landfills or incinerators.



  • Between 2003 and 2005, as much as 85 percent of the disposed electronics in the U.S. went straight in the trash and headed directly to local landfills or incinerators [source: EPA]. Worldwide, as much as 50 million tons of old electronics are discarded annually [source: Carroll].
  • “In the U.S., e-waste accounts for approximately 4 percent of the total amount of trash, but it contributes about 40 percent of the lead content in landfills. Of the other heavy metals in landfills, e-waste accounts for about 70 percent of that pollution [source: Downing]. “
  • The dangers of discarded, old computers stem from what’s inside them. Your typical piece of electronic equipment — especially one like a PC with many circuit boards — may contain up to 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms) of lead, along with lower levels of mercury, arsenic, cadmium, beryllium and other toxic chemicals [source: Downing]. These elements are all toxic at varying exposure levels. There is also a fairly poisonous family of flame-retardant chemicals used in most electronics. 

Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia

More notes: here

After watching this film which was made over a decade ago, I was curious about whether US is still not a party of the Basel Convention. What I found is disturbing: “The United States is not currently a party to the Basel Convention. Although the United States signed the agreement on March 22, 1990, it has not yet ratified the Convention. Therefore, the Basel Convention does not apply in the United States (64 FR 44722; August 17, 1999).” Does this mean the US can still legally export its toxic electronic parts to other countries? Yes, it does. Until US follows the EU’s model by complying to the Basel Convention to not export to other countries, we are postponing dealing with the issues of very toxic materials in our electronics and wastefulness in our consumption habits.

After some digging into what has happened legally since this documentary came out, I found that Ban was adopted in 1994 to address the export of hazardous waste to developing countries. However, ban opponents said the agreement wasn’t a legally binding part of the Basel Convention. US, along with other major countries, have still not ratified the Convention. But now US will have to ratify before Dec. 5, 2019 because now more than 3/4 majority of countries have ratified the bill. US will need to ratify unless it wants to further isolate itself from the global community.

From this Ban article, it reported that: “Still noticeably absent from the list of countries having ratified the ban are the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia, India, Brazil, and Mexico. The US produces the most waste per-capita, but has failed to ratified the Basel Convention and has actively opposed the Ban Amendment. According to BAN, this lack of adherence to international waste trade rules has allowed unscrupulous US “recyclers” to export many hundreds of containers of hazardous electronic waste each week to developing countries for so-called recycling. This primitive recycling involves the burning, melting and chemically stripping electronic waste by desperate, unprotected workers in highly polluting operations. Also, of great concern today is the fact that the vast majority of shipping companies send their old ships, full of lead, hazardous asbestos, PCBs, and flammable gases and oils to be run up on beaches in South Asia where they create pollution, occupational disease and death due to fires and explosions.”

Links tegarding Basel Convention and legislation around recycling:
Link to the Basel Convention on Hazardous Wastes (2001-2009)
Basel Ban on Hazardous Waste Approved 25 Years After its Passage
Over 180 countries — not including the US — agree to restrict global plastic waste trade
Global Ban on Exporting Hazardous Waste to Developing Countries Becomes Law

Nature Exhibit at Cooper Hewitt

I checked out Cooper Hewitt’s “Nature” exhibit in hopes that I will find some kindred technologists/artists/designers. There were a lot of beautiful biotech art that I was in awe of but didn’t know how to relate to my current research on the lifecycle of electronic products. The one piece that I knew I needed to research more was this ‘Babylegs’ piece by Max Liboiron who is the managing editor for the Discard Studies blog.

‘Babylegs’ is a monitoring device to collect the waste in the ocean. I find this to be a very original way of collecting data on information that is difficult to quantify.

I also love this line that was written on the wall of the exhibit: “One of the most remarkable aspects of nature is its lack of waste.”

How are Circuit Boards Recycled? Do They Have to be Shredded?

While this is probably ethical recycling of PCB, I find this shredding process to be such a waste. Each component on the board takes so much effort to mine and manufacture. There is also so much waste and toxins produced from the making of these circuit boards that I shriek at seeing how these PCBs and motherboards are simply shredded. Why can’t there be a robot that can read the circuit diagram, figure out what each component (i.e. transistor, heat sink, etc) is, figure out which components are still working, desolder, and categorize? If there are self-driving cars I think an AI robot to help with the de-manufacturing of a circuit board is not too far-fetched!

Dark Side of E-waste Recycling: Video Notes

The Circuit Documentary

  • BAN: Basel Action Network, non profit group dedicated to tracking the e-waste trade around the world.
  • American recyclers still export a lot of e-waste to developing nation, which isn’t illegal but is considered bad practice
  • BAN pretends to drop off a regular electronic but it has a tracking device in it.
  • Earth Eye – to track where the electronics end up. It ends up in other countries (i.e. Hong Kong) in remote places. Through the satellite imagery you can see a black pond that is most likely the sludge from burning the materials.
  • Hong Kong was a destination for e-waste shipments, where workers take apart the electronics in hazardous and unsafe ways.
    • “Ideally, electronics are broken down professionally, carefully discarded with safety in mind. Instead, unqualified laborers can poison their towns, develop cancer, and damage their nervous systems. Globally, the human and environmental toll of the work is impossible to calculate.”
  • Exporting electronics is not illegal in US, but BAN has sent some unethical electronic recyclers to prison.
  • Proper recycling is more expensive but doable
  • Steps that e-waste recycler ‘Total Reclaim’ claimed to take:
    • Products that could be reused: wipe hard drives and refurbish
    • Products that are at the end-of-use: dismantle the items.
      • for computers: shred the hard drive, take out the lithium-ion batteries, separate the rest of the materials for buyers.
      • steel, aluminum, precious metals go to metal refiners
      • assembly line workers pick through the larger pieces and sort the plastics
  • “The United States is taking in — and throwing out — an astonishing number of devices every year: millions of tons of televisions, phones, computers, appliances. Americans rarely see the aftermath.”
  • Ex of human health effects: cathode-ray tubes contain lead which can poison; cadmium used in batteries and circuit boards linked to skeletal deformities in animals; mercury in lcd monitors which can damage a person’s nervous system
  • Basel Convention in 1989 was set up to regulate the export of hazardous materials. The convention requires countries to consent before being sent the hazardous waste
  • “Environmental activists pushed for an amendment to the convention that would fully ban some of the world’s richest countries from sending their electronics to developing nations. The amendment still isn’t in effect, but some countries have taken major steps of their own accord to better curb the e-waste trade. The United States isn’t one of them.”
    • Europe has done a better job of restricting and regulating the trade
  • “But how should the recycling system work? What does a responsible world look like? When I ask Puckett, he gives a surprising answer. “Let’s put it this way: it’s not supposed to work,” he says. “This equipment was never designed to be recycled, which is why we have such problems.”
  • Total Reclaim company claimed they had being doing things ethically, but turns out they were using a third-party shipping company that sent LCD monitors overseas.
    • Total Reclaim sent more than 8 million pounds of flat screen monitors with mercury to Hong Kong, where, according to an EPA toxicologist report, workers were at risk of being poisoned. A worker even mentioned they had no idea that the cathode ray tubes were poisonous.
    • “The judge explained that if mercury-filled material was being handled the same way in the US, it would trigger a massive national outcry.”
  • Many recyclers export to save costs
  • US is the only developed country that has not ratified an international treaty to stop dumping e-waste in other countries