How Can Product Designers Help Solve the World’s Massive E-Waste Problem?
In February, a new smartphone launched in India that cost the equivalent of $3.60. The quickly dropping price of electronics, along with rising incomes around the world, means that there will soon be many more gadgets in the market. And when a newer, cheaper one comes along in a year, many more of them will end up as electronic waste.
That’s one of the points made in a new exhibition on e-waste at the New School’s Parsons School of Design, which shows the changing landscape of electronic production, consumption, and disposal, and asks how designers can start to help address the problem.
“I think when you live in the U.S. or Europe, you’re not so exposed to this—you don’t see the social and environmental consequences,” says Shaun Fynn, CEO and creative director of StudioFynn, a design firm that collaborated on the exhibition. While living in India for a commercial design research project, Fynn started photographing waste pickers sorting through e-waste in unregulated dumps, and researching the full lifecycle of products such as phones and tablets.
For a waste picker, a cell phone—filled with copper, silver, and a little gold—is a valuable source of income. But shredding and burning a gadget to get out those valuable components can also expose someone to lead poisoning or toxic dust that can lead to respiratory disease.