Uncluttering electronic waste

From Gender and Tech Resources

What is e-waste? How do I dispose of my "old" computer(s)? Can I reuse (parts of) it?

E-waste refers to electronic products nearing the end of their "useful life":

“Mom, there’s a new game. Can I have it?””Your birthday is coming up. What is it called?”

The huge cardboard box the game DVD is sold in shows requirements for running the game. The latest M$ windows operating system. Meaning, need that too. And oh dear, the hardware either doesn’t run the latest M$ operating system or it is too slow, killing the fun of playing the game. Need to replace that too.

“Oh mom?”

Make that new machine x number of children.

Case study: Uncluttering e-waste

There is so much written about e-waste, about (re)using (parts of) it [1], some of it may be useful for you, some of it may not. Just use what you need. Here I describe how we can use the M$ cycle as opportunity, and recycle “outdated” PC hardware. And depending on context, women can build small local businesses with it, charging for the costs of collecting old machines and time and energy spent on rebuilding machines and installing software.


  • Step 1 Collect "old" machines

It is often possible to collect old machines from family and friends, give-away stores, 2nd hand stores, (online) markets, you name it, and then use some machines for parts to repair the others. PC's are easy to find thanks to the M$ consumerism cycle, routers are not that often replaced and are harder to find. Phones seem to be replaced even faster than PC’s in Europe and the US, but not elsewhere in the world.

If possible, ask for the "story" of the machine, why it is no longer being used. It gives clues as to what works and what doesn't.

  • Step 2 Take out (re)useful parts

If the machine is *really* e-waste, as in, its disk has crashed or the processor got fried, open it up, and take out the harddrive, ethernet card(s), graphic cards, and any other cards and components that may be reuseful. Test the parts you took out by putting them in a functional linux machine. Build new machines out of old machines.

  • Step 3 Put firm- and/or soft-ware on it

Linux expands the life of hardware by reducing overhead and needing less system resources, which is why it runs fine on older machines.

Routers and other non-PC boxes: Some firmware are non-rewriteable while others are upgradeable, meaning that it is possible to upgrade the firmware of the device by connecting it to your PC in a particular configuration and then running the “flashing” software. Many routers can be flashed with openwrt or dd-wrt firmware. You can easily “jailbreak” a phone with tools such as Pangu or evasi0n.

  • Step 4 Giveaways

The art of giving comes to mind. Thanks to the insane commodify-everything western mindset, giving away stuff may make a receiver feel indebted. Giving in a way that this doesn't happen is an art in and of itself. One "safer" way is to have a table "on the side" (bazaar, not a cathedral) during events, where people can anonymously "leave" machines and others can "take" machines freely. Add notes as to the history of the machine: whether it is broken, repaired, and if so what was repaired. If anything fails, the new steward has clues where to look. The care with which these notes are made, the OS was installed, and how the machine is presented on such a table, presets the first connection a new steward of the machine makes. The new steward is not receiving crumbs that fell off a (big) business plate, not a watered down whiskey, not a feature deprived OS … she gets stewardship over a full-blown, complete, freakishly configurable and flexible intuitive ready OS with hardware having a second life. It only gets better!


Focus on your priorities, make efficient use of your time on this planet, choose a design for your life that allows for relaxing and replenishment, and make it so.


[1] The Big Question: How big is the problem of electronic waste, and can it be tackled? http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/the-big-question-how-big-is-the-problem-of-electronic-waste-and-can-it-be-tackled-1908335.html