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Illinois’ Best and the Brightest Tackle e-Waste

Illinois’ Best and the Brightest Tackle e-Waste

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Last week my colleague Sean Nicholson wrote about the refurbished PC market. While many of the tens of millions of used PCs discarded each year can be refurbished and reused, some have reached the end of their life and need to be disposed of properly—which brought me to Champaign, Illinois this week.  

‘Ever wonder what happens to your electronic waste - that old computer or cell phone that you discard?’  This was just one of the many challenging questions that the students from University of Illinois had to answer when competing in the first annual Sustainable e-Waste Design Competition.  The goal of the competition was to educate students, the university community at large and ultimately the nation (and of course me too!) about the importance of understanding and resolving the growing international problem of electronic waste. 

I was lucky enough to be asked by Willie Cade, CEO of PC Rebuilders and Recyclers based in Chicago, a Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher, to be one of 10 judges to participate in this great event.  It was a good opportunity to learn from my fellow judges about their efforts in e-waste management.  There’s a diverse range of groups working to address this problem – there were representatives from Dell, Wal-Mart, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, amongst others.

The competition was a grassroots effort.  The students organized a campus-wide e-waste collection drive and through a very creative promotional campaign they collected over 650 items weighing over 5 tons , including desktops, laptops, monitors, keyboards, cell phones, and even overhead projectors!  Some of these PCs can be refurbished and put to reuse, and some are so old they just needed to be disposed of properly.  The students’ goal was to come up with creative ways to address the problem of e-waste both locally and beyond.

I think Megan Kenney, an Industrial Design major and a competitor, summed up the competition brilliantly:

“I realized how much e-waste people are actually storing because of the mere fact that they are not sure how or where to discard it. This realization was made even more apparent when the people driving up in their cars and discarding their e-waste, were thanking us for taking this waste from them. Through unloading and listening to the responses of people, I began to think that this collection event was the start of something much larger than our school. The extent of what was going to be made from this waste, by the students in the class, was boundless and could possibly be the solution to a major worldwide problem.”  


What resonated with me the most was Megan’s enthusiasm, passion and knowledge around addressing e-waste head on was also shared by her fellow students which made it particularly difficult in choosing the winners of the competition.  I was impressed by the resourcefulness, creativity and ultimately practical application of various prototypes.  In my next post, I want to tell you about the winners and their entries.

-- William Calarese
International PR Director for Unlimited Potential