Open Innovation Challenge Yields Novel E-Waste Management Solutions

Published Nov-10-13

A global contest generates a clutch of innovative ideas to better deal with mountains of electronic waste.


The Story:

Open Innovation Challenge Yields Novel E-Waste Management Solutions People love gadgets. When new smartphones, iPad and laptop incarnations hit the shops, shelves are emptied within hours. But happy and content consumers leads to problems as old electronics are discarded. These end-of-life products are collectively known as e-waste and they present huge hazards for our health and the environment.

The waste includes office equipment, batteries, phones and anything with electrical components. Most contain dangerous pollutants such as lead, nickel and cadmium. Fortunately, many of the materials inside consumer electronics can be re-purposed and used in other electronics, so they don’t have to be thrown away. New ways need to be found to stop them from ending up on rubbish tips.

Rubbish Problem

According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, 20-50 million metric tons of e-waste are generated worldwide each year. By 2015, mobile phones and televisions will contribute 10 million tons per year. We simply do not reuse or refurbish enough of our gadgets. So we throw them away. When landfill sites fill up, the waste is shipped to other countries, thereby creating a problem elsewhere.

This complex issue has been with us for at least twenty years, but still there are no clear solutions in sight. Hoping to make some kind of difference, OpenIDEO along with Brazilian bank Itaú Unibanco, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued an e-waste challenge to the IDEO community in 2012.

Novel Solutions Needed

The challenge brief asked for new ways to better manage e-waste to better safeguard human health and look after the environment.

During the first two phases of the three-month submission period, ideas were shared, discussed and debated among the open innovation community. This resulted in the creation of more than 100 concepts that included apps, government legislation to encourage consumers to recycle and marketing campaigns.

These were reviewed by the judging panel and whittled down to a shortlist of 20. During the Refinement phase of the challenge community members added their thoughts to the evolving ideas. Eventually nine winning concepts were selected.

Among the innovative winning ideas were:

Nerd Share: a service where people can go to their nearest coffee shop or café/bar and get advice on their computer and any updates. The aim is to reduce the volume of people buying new computers.

Farmers' Market "(e)waste not" Booth: this is a stand in market places where people can learn about the hazards of e-waste, how to responsibly dispose of their electronics, and how to repair or re-purpose them.

Chargers and cords exchange box: this would be an exchange box situated in local stores. People could drop off the chargers and cords for their old electronics that other people may be able to use.

E-Cycle Truck: a transformed old truck could go around neighbourhoods informing and educating people about e-waste. It could also be a place where people can have their old and broken electronics repaired.

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