ETech 2009: Make Making Stuff Clear, So We Can Unmake It Better

photos by Jaymi Heimbuch

When it comes to unmaking stuff, we have a long way to go before we're very efficient. But a big road block is manufacturers not revealing how they manufacture a product and what they manufacture it with so that products can be disassembled and recycled. Tom Igoe of Interactive Telecommunications Program, NYU addresses the issue of unmaking stuff at ETech. Igoe discusses a little about the fact that we make a mess while creating gadgets, so we need to get creative when it comes to putting materials back into the manufacturing stream. Check out some innovative products created by students, including the familiar solar bikini.

Here's what goes into a product:

Here's what recyclers need to know:

Thing is, manufacturers don't want to give that away. They view it as proprietary information and view recyclers as competitors. That, is an issue.

Igoe says we need to develop three kinds of literacy:

Energy literacy - knowing how we use what we have, and how we can change it for the better.

Material literacy - knowing what we use, what it's made from, the toxicity, and what materials are needed to support the item you are using. For instance, if you're wondering what's in your computer, you also have to wonder what's in the screen, the circuit boards and so on.

Production literacy - knowing where is it produced, how, by who, and how far it is transported to get to you. An example given as a major mishap in production literacy is the infamous Esquire magazine eink issue. That "clever" project increased the carbon footprint of the issue by 16%.

Resource literacy - Get mining companies getting interested in recycling because a ton of e-waste will have between 40 to 800 times the gold concentration as a ton of iron ore. Also, getting vendors to fess up where their materials come from is difficult because they view it as intellectual property.

When we increase these literacies, we'll have a better situation of open, transparent manufacturing that will get us much farther on being able to reduce, reuse, recycle and research better materials.

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Tags: Corporate Responsibility | Cradle To Cradle | Recycling | Reusability