Friday, February 20, 2009

UI professor of industrial design William Bullock engages students, business to resolve problem of electronic waste

UI professor of industrial design William Bullock engages students, business to resolve problem of electronic waste

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There is a little used room in the basement of my house. In that room sits a beige colored machine for which my family and I paid about $1,000 nine years ago. This machine functions just as well as it did on the day we bought it—better, really, since we’ve done some work on it over the years, but nobody wants to use it anymore. I bump into a similar machine taking up floor space when I visit with my colleague in the office next door at the U of I. Indeed, until very recently there was a supply room on our floor that housed little other than such machines.

I’m talking about old computers, of course, and I bet you know where some are parked, too.

There are a lot of them out there, and they comprise a significant part of the e-waste problem that has developed around the world as electronic equipment has come to play a larger role in the lives of more people over the past half century. In addition to computers this problem also encompasses old televisions, DVD players, portable phones, and more—just about anything that beeps or sports a keypad.

Recognizing the direct benefit to campus of addressing the problem of e-waste, as well as the opportunity to change the wider world for the better, University of Illinois professor of industrial design William Bullock has this year offered a two-semester sequence of courses in which undergraduate and graduate students from a wide range of disciplines take on this real world issue.

A key collaborator on these courses has been Chicago entrepreneur, Willie Cade. Cade is owner of a company called PC Rebuilders and Recyclers, which refurbishes donated computers and sells them at affordable prices to schools, non-profit organizations, and individuals who might otherwise not have access to one.

In the Fall 2008 part of the sequence students investigated the many facets of the e-waste problem and collaborated to draft a comprehensive report of their findings.

In the second part of the sequence, which is being taught this semester, the focus is on sustainable product design. Professor Bullock hopes that students will complete this class with an understanding of why products should be designed with attention to the entire range of environmental impacts associated with them--from the natural resources and energy used to produce them, to the toxic chemicals that must be accounted for when they are discarded.

Beyond that, students in the class will also gain considerable experience in the “how” of sustainable design, by working together in teams to create new or recycled products from discarded electronics. These products will be entered into a sustainable e-waste design competition, which will be held in April and which is open to all students on campus.

You can support the sustainable design competition and liberate yourself from items of personal e-waste by donating them at a collection event to be held on the UI campus this Saturday, February 21. Acceptable items include old computers, monitors, keyboards, printers, scanners and cell phones. Unfortunately televisions can not be accepted. The drop off will run from 9:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. at Lincoln Hall, 702 South Wright Street. Computer data will be treated securely and hard drives will be erased.

Ultimately, William Bullock and his collaborators are seeking to establish at the U of I an international center to develop policies and processes that will make the problem of e-waste itself obsolete.

** Collection Event Details directly from Sustainable E-Waste Design Competition Web Calendar **

E-waste collection event will be held on campus from 9:00-2:00 p.m., Saturday, February 21, 2009 at Lincoln Hall, 702 S. Wright St., to collect unused CPUs, monitors, keyboards, mice, printers, scanners and cell phones. (TVs and other electrical e-waste cannot be accepted). Donors are encouraged to donate there old computers as specified above as these items will be made available to students entering the competition. Donations will be limited to one carload of computer e-waste per donor. Additional material from donors beyond one carload will be accepted on a space available basis.