The rapid technological advancements prevalent in our contemporary society enable more powerful and desirable technologies to be released in increasingly shorter spaces of time, creating vast amounts of obsolete machines that lack appropriate avenues of disposal. The nature of design practice creates problematic electronic waste output as industries dispose of this rapidly growing waste in irresponsible and exploitative ways.
There is little discourse regarding the issue of electronic waste in contemporary society, despite the inextricable link between our culture and vast arrays of technology we depend on. In the current system, the consequence of irresponsible e-waste disposal lies not with the consumers, but with the disenfranchised, impoverished workers and inhabitants of second and third world countries, where e-waste dumping sites can exist without the same management law, necessary infrastructure and safety concerns affluent economies would stipulate (Oteng-Ababio 2010). This consequence manifests itself both monetarily and societally, as disempowered workers are exploited at low-wage to dismantle the electronics used and discarded by the rest of the world. The practices in these plants, like Guiyu in China and Agbogbloshie (a former wetland) in Ghana, are loosely regulated, if at all, (Greenpeace 2012) and employ workers often uneducated in the danger and severity of the materials they are exposed to.
But one designer in the small West African nation of Togo is using innovative design solutions to combat this problem and reduce the amount of harmful electronic waste being dumped in landfill. Kodjo Afate Gnikou has designed and created the first 3D printer to be made almost entirely from electronic waste. He found the materials at a local e-waste dumping site and created the printer with only USD$100 spent on sourced parts. Afate’s work is based out of ‘Woe-Labs’, a makers space in Togo’s capital, Lome, as part of their LowHighTech initiative which seeks to provide solutions to “African conditions and realities” (The New Africa 2015) through socially responsible design that utilise waste and recycling. The 3D printer is based on the Prusal Mendal an existing American/European printer, and utilises computers, printers and scanners found at local e-waste dumping sites. Its design is centred around the re-use of belts and rails from old scanners.
For Afate, this design represents something much larger than his original prototype, he hopes to use the printer as a starting point to design living solutions that could exist on mars to combat an increasingly populated world.
Afate has received over $4000 through French crowd funding site, Ulule, which has allowed him to begin making kits that will give anyone the opportunity to create their own e-waste-sourced 3D printer. Through this initiative he hopes to reduce the prevalence of electronic waste while also bringing Africa into the technological design sphere, stating “My dream is to give young people hope and to show that Africa, too, has its place on the global market when it comes to technology”(Ungerleider 2013).
1 – Oteng-Ababio, M. 2010, ‘E-waste: An Emerging Challenge to Solid Waste Management in Ghana’, International Development Planning Review, vol. 32, pp. 191-206.
2 – Greenpeace 2012, Guiyu: An E-waste Nightmare, Greenpeace East Asia, viewed 18 April 2014, URL <http://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/campaigns/toxics/problems/e-waste/guiyu/>.
3 –The New Africa 2015, ‘West African Invented 3D Printer From E-Waste’, The New Africa, April 22, <http://www.thenewafrica.info/west-african-inventor-makes-us100-3d-printer-e-waste/>
4 – Ungerleider, N. 2013, This African Inventor Create a 100 Dollar 3D Printer From E-Waste, Fast Company, viewed 12 April 2015, <http://www.fastcompany.com/3019880/this-african-inventor-created-a-100-3-d-printer-from-e-waste>
5 – (Video 1) WoeLab Lome 2013, W.Afate on Mars (anim), video, YouTube, viewed 12 April 2015, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=34&v=SWwtqyZ1x7g>
6 – (Video 2) WoeLab Lome 2013, W.Afate, video, YouTube, viewed 12 April 2015, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1OU0e2XVXo>
7 – (Image 1) McConnell, A. n.d., Name Unknown, viewed 12 April 2015, <http://www.ulule.com/wafate/>
8 – (Image 2) (Image 1)WoeLab. n.d., Name Unknown, viewed 12 April 2015, <http://www.ulule.com/wafate/>