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How many devices do we REALLY need?

E-waste is a global problem, and many people require access to technology beyond their economic reach. But how do you best dispose of technology you are not using anymore? What should you do if you need a new laptop or printer but don’t have much of a budget?

Stop by the offices of Free Geek Toronto (at Climate Ventures, our new climate solutions incubator!) to get answers. We recently asked Free Geek’s Executive Director Ryan Fukunaga a couple of questions of our own.

(Free Geek are part of an exciting upcoming event at CSI Annex, and you can be part of it too! Come help select finalists and watch them pitch for $20,000 in cash awards at our climate-focused pitch night!)


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recently released report shows that the global e-waste management market generated is expected to reach 63.705 million metric tons by 2025. What do you think is the best way to engage the public about the scale and urgency of this issue?
It’s all spreading the knowledge about the environmental impact technology is having. Free Geek focuses on reuse and getting more out of existing items through repairing, fixing, and the use of Free and Open Source Software to extend the life of electronics. By involving the public in the repair/reuse of electronics through workshops, training, and general outreach, we’re able to engage long-term habit changing behaviour while also creating employment for people who face barriers to employment and affordable technology for low-income individuals/families.

India has mandated that electronic device manufacturers are responsible for recycling and reducing e-waste in the country. Do you think that is something that will (or should) happen here?
This is kind of already happening in Ontario. Remember EcoFees (which are now hidden in the cost of products)? Those were the provincial government’s way of making producers accountable for the e-waste they produce. There have been several pieces of legislation to deal with waste, the most recent being the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act (2016), which continues to regulate how e-waste is dealt with in Ontario. Ontario has fairly robust system of dealing with e-waste compared to other jurisdictions in North America.

It seems like every day there is a new product being added to “The Internet of Things“. Is there any way a person can minimize the e-waste they create without being completely left behind by crucial technological advances?
Wait. Aside from the e-waste component (how many devices do we REALLY need?), IoT devices, especially the cheap ones, are often riddled with security flaws. You should research which products are using quality software, looking for Open Source project with large communities of developers involved. Is the software published to GitHub, or a similar website? Also consider what information you’re willing to share with for-profit companies, and who those for-profit companies are sharing information with (3rd-party advertisers, governments, etc.).

What is your biggest hope for your organization? What does the world look like if all those hopes come true?
Our biggest hope is getting more people, entire communities, involved in reducing electronic waste by extending the life of their existing products through hardware maintenance and repair AND using Free and Open Source Software (which fights against planned obsolesce). We want people to have control of their electronics, data, and digital lives, and to ensure no one is left out of the digital society/economy.

We hope people’s curiosity will be pique and investigate how tech, and STEM topics in general, are integrated into their daily life.

How can CSI members (or anyone!) get involved in what you are doing?
Support Free Geek by donating whatever old and unused computers, gadgets, wires, and mobile devices! Let others know about focusing on reuse and using sites like iFixit to take things apart.

Drop by our store and see what a Linux-based operating system, loaded with Free and Open Source Software, is all about. You’d be surprised how awesome they are!

Bonus Question: Kids who watched Fraggle Rock were exposed to the visionary wisdom of Marjory the Trash Heap. How would you re-imagine this character for the present day, to help kids learn about the dangers of e-waste?

I haven’t seen the Fraggles Rock, but I guess it would be something like “It’s more fun to fix the electronics you own than buying a new one!”

Want to see what other innovations are happening at Climate Ventures? Book a tour today!

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