Can we Unmake and Upcycle 53.6 million tons of e-waste?

Steve Summers from Noisy Toys says its time to learn true mastery over our technology

It would be nice to try, but I think probably not. However, we can increase awareness of where the materials come from and where the waste goes to. We can examine our own consumption and try to influence others and we can take action to send a clear message to governments and companies: this economic model must change. Planned obsolescence must stop, and we must take clear steps towards a Circular Economy and stop dumping our toxic waste on developing countries.

Any electronic items that have been thrown away count as e-waste. Last year 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste was produced, more than the combined weight of all of the adults in Europe, more than has ever been produced in previous years. Most of it ended up being dumped in developing countries, often illegally, poisoning people and places. The toxic materials are often burnt, dumped in the sea or left in heaps next to where people live. This trend is set to rise as consumption increases and companies are free to produce disposable consumer electronics products, designed to become obsolete quickly to maximize profits. 

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Popping the consumer bubble.

Nothing resets our relationship to technology better than taking a hammer to it.

Consumer tech products are presented to us as magic shiny boxes that do wondrous things to satisfy our desires, but do they actually live up to our hopes? Do they make us happy as the adverts suggest? Not to worry if they don’t live up to expectations though; there is always an even more wondrous version just around the corner, maybe one that will fill the gap between our desires and the reality of our use.

Over the years the boxes got shinier and more difficult to open or repair. Some fruity companies even started gluing the batteries into their laptops so that they couldn’t be replaced and a whole new laptop would have to be purchased.

It seems that we are more controlled by our tech than ever before, but wasn’t it supposed to work for us? These time-saving devices seem to steal more of our time than ever, and now they also spy on us constantly for the benefit of the companies that designed them.

‘There was a time when we searched Google. Now Google searches us.’ Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

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Unmaking: Like Making things, but the other way around

By dismantling these items when they are defunct, we are re-asserting our mastery over our tech, and it feels good to crack open that shiny box, pull out the innards and harvest the useful organs. Unmaking, Tinkering and Making are great learning activities. We learn a lot of practical skills about using tools and how the things work so that we can start to learn true mastery over our technology; repairing and hacking existing tech, designing our own versions for a sustainable future. Technology that works for us and that fits into the Circular Economy.

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Noisy Toys is all about having fun experimenting with sound. They make amazing instruments from upcycled e-waste and broken things. Since 2008 they have taken their interactive noise contraptions, workshops and performances to events – including the Festival of Thrift – and schools all over the country.

They say they now are “taking advantage of this strange year” to help share their Making and Tinkering methods through online workshops in association with Thriftfest Upcycled and Scavanger Labs.

Download the Noisy Toys activity pack to find out what electronic waste you need to start hoarding so you are ready to join the Noisy Toys workshop during the Thriftfest Upcycled digital edition live stream on Saturday 12 September.

Then join the fun from home on the day making an upcycled Robo-Chicken and learning how to master the Art of Unmaking (suitable for 8+ supervised) at https://www.festivalofthrift.co.uk/make-and-do/

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