By Monica Seeley | Mar 12, 2015

Members of the UW’s Electrical Engineering Department hope to make strides to solve the issue of electronic waste with funding from a Green Seed Fund grant. Awarded $50,433 by the Fund, this group is focused on the sustainability of electronic waste and how to better divert the waste flow to more renewable options.

Denise Wilson, a professor in UW’s Electrical Engineering, described an experience that led to the creation of the proposal. She had asked an electrical engineer to bring by any waste he was holding on to. When she returned to her office, she was greeted by tables and tables of electronic parts. Each piece of equipment seemed to require a different recycling method.

Jack Lockhart, the Manager of Program Operations in Electrical Engineering, experienced this overwhelming issue of electronic waste from another angle. As one of the individuals who authorizes the purchases of parts, he knew exactly how much the department spent on electronics and how much equipment was piling up in storage.

The GSF proposal tied into Lockhart’s experience doing restoration work. Co-workers seemed interested in environmental health, but had little knowledge of where electronic waste went after being discarded by consumers. He believes that while Northwesterners know sustainability is important, few know of or understand the issue of electronic waste pollution.

Further motivation for the proposal came from how to acquire and dispose of the harmful materials that make up electronics. Mining for raw materials such as copper, tantalum, gold, and platinum can have a significant detrimental environment effects, but recycling of electronics to extract these materials can have equally detrimental effects on both environment and public health.

Their project proposal includes research to determine the total volume of electronic waste generated at the university and what happens to that waste. Once the scope of the issue is known, the next step is to determine how the UW can better redirect and repurpose electronic waste to support greener solutions to the problem of electronic waste handling. This grant will complement existing efforts by UW recycling and surplus to handle electronic waste in a responsible and ecologically friendly way.

Part of the proposal includes setting up additional recycle stations for UW students and staff to drop off electronics they no longer need. Look out for these bins around the computer science and engineering buildings later in 2015!