E-waste or electronic waste is becoming a bigger and bigger issue every year, mostly affecting third world and developing countries. New and improved technologies are discovered and revealed every day, and every day people are updating their lives with these new little gadgets, be it the newest iphone, ipod, dell laptop, or remote controller that can flush the toilet for you as you surf through TiVo. There's always the opportunity for these designers to stop e-waste early at the design stage, incorporating less toxic materials and more sustainable ones.
The problem is that whenever there is a recycling program in the states and other developed countries, it simply translates to "we take your electronics and ship them to under-developed countries and they take care of it." China, India, and recently places in Africa are all large recipients of our e-waste. The workers there are in charge of melting down these parts such as circuit boards and salvaging the valuable metals that can be resold for profit, like copper for example. What happens though, is that these places, China especially, have to governmental regulation on how this process should be done. Workers do not have any sort of protective gear, including masks, to prevent these toxic chemicals from being inhaled or coming in contact with their skin. Pregnant women, children, and other surrounding towns are all being exposed and their health is deteriorating, but nothing is being done about it. The issue is that the e-waste trade is a large part of certain town's economies and it can't just be taken away from them. China released a regulation in 2000 that prohibited acceptance of e-waste. However, those involved began to smuggle it in instead because the profit from this business is so great; for those in charge of the trade at least. The Chinese government knows that smuggling goes on but refuses to enforce anything because they know how beneficial it is to their growing economy.
Towns and environments are completely destroyed because there are piles and piles of used laptops, keyboards, monitors, etc that just sit in the water and near rice crops. Water, a resource that should be readily available for all, is bought outside of the town and shipped in daily. The same conditions apply to India and Africa. In the end, I want to specifically target Africa since it is a recent addition to the receiving locations of e-waste and perhaps can still be saved. With places in India and China, they have been in the business for too long for much to be done about it, as well as the government knowing about it in the case of China. Since I can't just take away this economic business from them, I want to use product design to at least improve the conditions from which the workers are working. Possibly provide some sort of affordable and sustainable protective gear that would prevent the inhalation of toxic chemicals as well as breakouts from contact with the skin. Although I'm targeting Africa specifically, this gear would also be able to be put to use in the other countries as well.