'Mount Recyclemore' Sculpture Highlights Growing Threat of E-Waste to Planet

It depicts G7 leaders' heads using discarded electronics.

Mount Recyclemore
Mount Recyclemore.


An unusual sight awaited the leaders of the world's leading democracies at the G7 Summit in Cornwall last month. A large and lively art installation, dubbed "Mount Recyclemore," depicted the heads of the seven leaders, all made from discarded electronics. Two metric tons of e-waste were used in the process, which took six weeks, and was set up temporarily at Sandy Acres Beach until June 13, 2021.

"Mount Recyclemore" was created by artist Joe Rush, who is "well-known for his art pieces that focus on environmental issues and [for] creating thought-provoking pieces that reveal the impact that humans are having on our planet." Rush has worked with other artists including Banksy, Vivienne Westwood, and Damien Hirst. For this project, he partnered with Decluttr, a U.S.-based tech company that specializes in buying, renting, and recycling technology (think handheld devices) in sustainable ways.

The art installation was designed to spark a much-needed discussion about electronic waste, which inundates the countries represented at the summit. The G7 nations combined (U.K., U.S., Canada, Japan, Germany, France, and Italy) produce around 15.9 million metric tons of e-waste annually. Decluttr's research has found that more than half of Americans don't know what e-waste is, and 67% aren't aware that tech waste is the fastest-growing waste stream in the world, expected to double by 2050.

A press release states one of the most concerning facts, that "one in 3 Americans, or nearly 70 million people across the country, incorrectly assume that the proper way to dispose of electronics is via their home recycling or garbage can." More than half didn't think it contributed to climate change, and even after learning a definition of e-waste, "57% didn’t know how it affects the environment if not recycled correctly."

With the vast majority of Americans (91%) having unused tech lying around drawers in their homes, these are worrisome findings. Much of that could end up as toxic landfill waste if the owners persist in their ignorance of how to deal with it properly.

Liam Howley, CMO of Decluttr, elaborates on that point for Treehugger: "E-waste that isn’t recycled properly often ends up in landfills or unauthorized dump sites and poses serious environmental risks to our world. Moreover, discarding e-waste means the precious materials contained in tech products can’t be reused and more primary raw materials are extracted and refined to produce new tech, which increases greenhouse gas emissions."

It's a well-known fact that e-waste in landfills leaches harmful chemicals into soil and water and, if incinerated, releases noxious fumes into the air, while contributing to global warming. In the words of Steve Oliver, founder and CEO of Decluttr, education is desperately needed. "We need to ... empower people to make changes today. People can support a more sustainable, circular economy, by doing something as simple as trading in or recycling their tech, which will extend the life of those devices and their parts."

Howley adds to that, saying, "Everyone can help to protect the planet and reduce e-waste by reselling and recycling the products they no longer use and by making a point to buy refurbished technology instead of new products." Decluttr offers that service by refurbishing 95% of products it buys from customers and using parts from the remaining 5% to refurbish other items.

The "Mount Recyclemore" installation may not be standing in Cornwall anymore, but it won't be forgotten anytime soon. The spokesperson tells Treehugger the response was incredible: "A lot of international press reported on the sculpture and interviewed Joe and the Decluttr CEO. It got a lot of buzz on Twitter and tons of people stopped to visit the sculpture on the beach and take pictures. It was truly a sight to see!" 

As for its lasting effect on the G7 leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, that remains to be seen. Hopefully "Mount Recyclemore" did its part to get them talking about a pressing issue and to take real, immediate action as part of their efforts to fight climate change and build a greener future.