Jan 13, 2017 | By Tess

As technology advances at astonishing rates, making our daily lives more and more convenient, it is sometimes easy to overlook the dark side of tech turnover: expanding piles of electronic waste. Things like broken printers, old desktop computers, and clunky TVs are becoming an increasingly common presence in landfills, despite many parts and components of these junked items being reusable.

Fortunately, a number of e-waste centers have popped up across the globe that are helping to deconstruct and repurpose parts from old gadgets and machines, effectively reducing the amount of electronic goods that end up in landfills. In Queensland, Australia, two new centers, E-Hub Mackay and E-Hub Sarina, have been helping local populations get rid of their old tech in a more sustainable and environmentally conscious way.

Not only that, the E-Hubs are also providing a space where people from the community can come learn technical skills and receive training to prepare them for the changing world of work. Frank Mason, a project supervisor at the E-Hub, explained: “We are running this as a social enterprise, utilizing some people that are on the work for the dole program, basically giving them a reason to get out of bed.”

Essentially, the e-waste centers are providing technological training to people in the community who may be struggling to enter the job market. The work, which involves dismantling e-waste that comes in and sorting parts for reuse, is a hands-on experience which can familiarize people with how electronics are assembled and how new things can be made from them.

Of course, dismantling the e-waste is only the first part of the job, as the Queensland E-Hubs are also dedicated to reusing parts and transforming them into new technologies. “Things like motors, things like rods, things like wiring boards, we’re looking at how we might use them,” said Mason. The E-Hub’s current project is to build functioning 3D printers from old printers and copiers.

Mason explains that to make a new 3D printer, the main parts that are required can be sourced from machines they have in abundance: office copiers. Other parts, like the extruder and controller, are a bit harder to find second hand, but are just a small part of the overall build. Additional components for the 3D printer’s structure can be designed and 3D printed themselves: “The 3D printer will help make the next 3D printer,” Mason explains.

The e-waste centers are confident that their novel approach to both recycling electronic waste and training employees will benefit all in the long run. In terms of waste, E-Hub Mackay collected more than three tons of printers in its first weeks, which basically means that those three tons of waste were rerouted for reuse and recycling. In terms of jobs, the centers are directly offering local employment in a field that is ripe with opportunity.

23-year-old Jesse Arnold is just one of the people who is learning new skills from his time at E-Hub Mackay. Arnold, who completed training in warehousing and transport logistics, found himself struggling to find a job despite his qualifications. Fortunately, he came across the E-Hub opportunity, and has been learning a slew of new skills including deconstructing and building electronics, as well as wiring and soldering. Now, Arnold feels more assured that he will find a job he is interested in, and will be able to put his new skills to use.

23-year-old Jesse Arnold

As the cherry on top, Mason and his team will donate the 3D printers they build to local schools, helping to promote STEM and electronics education at early ages. "In the old days you used to do wood work, metal work and dress-making," he commented. "Well what about 3D printing, coding, making your own filament? What a great exercise to teach people how they're made."


Images: ABC Tropical North, Harriet Tatham



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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