In the United States alone 250 million pounds of garbage is generated each year. While one third of it is recycled, the rest simply goes into a landfill. Not everything that is tossed out is junk, and many people around the globe are repurposing discarded items from landfills which can have a profound global impact.
The World’s First 3D Printer Made From E-Waste
Kodjo Afate Gnikou hails from Togo in Western Africa where landfills are filled with electronic waste including printers, scanners, and discarded computers. Much of this waste has been imported from the United Kingdom and the United States.
Rather than continue to accept the circumstances of his environment, the 33-year-old inventor decided to take advantage of the available supplies and crafted the world’s first fully functional 3D printer made mainly from e-waste.
Using parts from old scanners and computers, Gnikou was able to assemble the 3D printer for his citizen science group in Lomé for only around $100, while traditional 3D printers can cost thousands of dollars. A budget-friendly printer would give impoverished communities the ability to embrace technology and have access to tools they might not otherwise have.
This ingenious repurposing attracted NASA’s attention when he participated in the NASA International Space Apps Challenge in Paris by demonstrating how reclaimed e-waste could print tools and help colonize Mars. His printer won first place as the local winner in Paris and was nominated for the global prize.
The small slum town of Cateura in Paraguay is plagued by illiteracy. It is surrounded by a landfill that has largely been imported from distant places, and instead of attending school small children sift through the garbage looking for things to resell to recycling companies.
After a discarded violin shell was discovered the community began making other musical instruments from the refuse. This presented a unique opportunity to teach the children of the poverty-stricken community to play music. Without these recycled instruments the children would never have been given the opportunity, as even a regular violin is worth more than a house in that area. Scraps of trash have been recycled into instruments that children in the village learn to play beautifully. They are collectively known as the Recycled Orchestra and are preparing for a world tour. Their success has not only brought attention to Cateura’s state of poverty, but also to the environmental impact of landfills.
Studies have shown that children who play music are more likely to excel in math than peers who do not. Additionally, music majors who want to continue on to medical school have an astonishing 66% acceptance rate; higher than any other group.
Using Discarded CDs to Create Potable Water
Recently a group of researchers from National Taiwan University developed a method that breaks down impurities and toxins from wastewater and creates a clean, potable product. Approximately 20 billion discs are made each year and 100,000 pounds are thrown into landfills each month. As the CDs break down they leach Bisphenol-A (BPA) into the environment.
The filtration system uses the flat surface to grow zinc oxide. When exposed to UV light the zinc oxide begins to break down the contaminants with remarkable efficiency. After only an hour 95% of the impurities have been broken down. Per minute, that yields 150 milliliters of clean water to drink.
This system not only repurposes discarded CDs, but could also help to answer the issue of water insecurity that plagues over 780 million people on Earth.