Saving E-Textiles from an E-waste Fate

Ji Sun Lee's moonlit flower project

Dec 14: Also posted at The Hacktory.

E-waste sucks. In the US we trash about 400 million electronic devices every year. A study published this summer says that soft circuits and e-textiles are on track to become an even more intractable waste problem, unless early adopters turn it into a green technology.

An article in the Journal of Industrial Ecology from August discusses how the very thing that makes e-textiles interesting–the unobtrusive integration of electronics and fabric–could make them an e-waste nightmare.

What makes traditional e-waste so difficult is that it contains valuable stuff like precious metals and rare earths, but in small quantities that are hard to recycle and laced with toxins.

Enter e-textiles. Who isn’t charmed by the idea of a biking sweatshirt with built-in turn signals or accessories that could let your doctor know if your heart rate goes wacky? … Read the rest

11 To-Do’s for Women In Tech

Cross-posted at The Hacktory.

I’m at the venerable LISA (Large Installation System Administration) Conference in Boston this week. I just left a panel on Women in Tech. This rap session/problem-solving brainstorm was a great way to wrap up an exhilarating and encouraging year for women in IT. I was reminded of two of my favorite works on why the gender gap persists, not to mention lots of other diversity gaps: a 2006 study by the Free/Libre/Open Source Software Policy Support project and Skud’s amazing 13 minute breakdown of everything you need to know from OSCon 2009.

The discussion ranged from … Read the rest

E-waste talk at Penn today

Today I’ll be presenting about e-waste on the Penn campus for my former department.  Penn folks are invited, but I don’t think it’s open to the public just because of space considerations. As usual, I’ll be talking about how e-waste came to be such a problem and why recycling is not simply the environmentally just thing to do, but also a smart hedge against volatile commodities markets.  I’ll be making the argument that any country that wants to be a serious player in tech manufacturing ought to work on making new electronics out of old electronics.

I’ve done a little bit of reading to catch myself up on the changes in the rare earth market and e-waste landscape since I finished my capstone project.  I found that the rare earth shortage I wrote about has lead manufacturers to find ways to use less of them in the past six months, … Read the rest