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UW EE Team Receives Funding to Enhance Electronic Waste Handling

Creating robotics kits with repurposed parts is just one idea an EE team has for keeping more electronic waste out of landfills. The idea may become a reality, thanks to $50,000 in funding the team, comprised of Professor Denise Wilson, staff Jack Lockhart and student Rachel Roberts, received to support the development of an electronic waste handling system for the UW Seattle campus.

The award is from the Green Seed Fund, which funds projects that contribute to UW campus sustainability goals, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Out of 15 proposals, five projects were awarded a total of $279,000 in funding.

“There is a lot of electronic waste, especially generated by the teaching and research activities of an electronics-oriented department like ours, which is falling through the cracks and into municipal landfills,” Wilson said.

Currently, about 40 million metric tons of electronic waste is generated annually worldwide. A high percentage of electronic waste ends up being recycled improperly, harming workers and the environment. The team will be working to better understand what types of electronic waste are most often generated in academic settings and will devise methods for better recycling practices.

“That is part of what we don’t know and part of the project will survey a variety of units on campus to find out,” said Wilson about the most common types of electronic waste on campus.

To inform the development of new disposal methods, the team is exploring existing outlets for recycling electronic waste. Current electronic waste-handling efforts on campus consist of UW Recycling handling electronic media such as batteries, cell phones, printer cartridges, CDs and DVDs and UW Surplus handling all equipment purchased with university funds. A few of the team’s ideas for repurposing electronics include creating robotics kits with repurposed parts and offering gently used electronics for reuse via a database.

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