What is E-Waste?

Electronic waste (or e-waste) is the term used to refer to electronic devices, from cellphones to farm equipment, that have reached the end of their lifespans and are discarded. Electronic waste is the fastest growing waste stream in the world, due to both the sheer number of devices used in the modern world and harmful practices such as planned obsolescence and lack of right to repair causing artificial shortening of device lifespans. Once discarded, the majority of e-waste is sent to dump sites in Asia and Africa, where toxic chemicals released through unsafe recycling practices or the slow degradation of electronics result in health and environmental hazards for the communities near these sites.

Our Comps

Despite the global scale of the impacts of electronic waste, we found that placing focus on these impacts is not an effective way to motivate people to get involved with the issue and advocate for change. Instead, through our involvement with Free Geek Twin Cities, a non-profit organization that repurposes and recycles old electronics, we found that small, community level action is an extremely effective way to get people thinking about e-waste and contributing to solutions.

With this discovery in mind, what we have built for this project focuses on the importance of community organizations like Free Geek, and encourages people to get excited about old technology and get involved in whatever way is most accessible to them.



Our Research

We wrote a paper to organize our research on electronic waste and to illustrate the multifaceted problem to others. In order to make that research accessible to those with little or no knowledge about electronic waste, we started the paper with three anecdotal problems related to electronic waste, and followed up with analysis and solutions relevant to those problems. The central argument of our paper was that electronic waste is a form of violence due to its consistent harm to vulnerable communities, and also that electronic waste can also be treated through enthusiasm and action - both individual and statewide. The research and sentiment of our paper informed all other deliverables in the project.

Link to our paper.


Our Partner Organizations

Free Geek

Free Geek is a non-profit organization with a noble objective of promoting environmentally sustainable recycling, refurbishing, and selling of electronic waste. Their operations are centered in the Twin Cities metro area where they receive donations from various sources.

Our collaboration with Free Geek began in October of 2022, and since then we have engaged in several visits to the organization, immersing ourselves in their operational processes to identify how our project can potentially enhance their operations. After multiple discussions with the Executive Director of Free Geek Twin Cities, Dave Nakada Cross, we recognized that the best way to support Free Geek is by setting up a data collection system that can quantify the impact of their sustainable e-waste management and retail operations. Thus, the primary focus of our project is to establish a data collection system for Free Geek, which will serve as the first of our three deliverables for this project. An important aspect of our data collection efforts involved the meticulous labeling of each electronic device that passed through our intake section. Specifically, we assigned a unique identification number to each device, which allowed us to accurately track its progress through our operations. Subsequently, we collected data pertaining to each electronic device as it left the modern build section and prior to its entry into the store. This data included the identification number assigned to the device, as well as a brief comment regarding its specific characteristics and features.

Carleton College

As a leading institution of higher learning, Carleton College takes its environmental responsibility seriously, recognizing that it has an important role to play in reducing electronic waste on its campus. As a result, the Information Technology Services (ITS) department has implemented a comprehensive system for the disposal and recycling of computers and other electronic devices. This system is designed to ensure that all old electronics, including computers, monitors, projectors, and printers owned by the school, are carefully monitored and disposed of in a safe and sustainable manner.

Art Installation

Our Art Installation

We also built an art installation using electronic waste. The purpose of the installation was to represent the ugly nature of electronic waste, but simultaneously inspire onlookers. We did this by using wires and miscellaneous devices to give the installation a ‘messy’ look, while also using machines, such as a projector and speakers, to make an appealing and interactive audiovisual spectacle. The visuals showcased our artist statement, and information about the key devices we used to make the installation. The audio was a ‘chiptune’ song composed for a refurbished game console from the 1980s. The use of otherwise obsolete devices to share art modeled the value of machines even as they age out of regular use. Many of the components came from a local organization called FreeGeek.

Below is a 3D model of our art installation:

And here is a link to our artist statment and interactive presentation that is projected while the intallation is running.

What Can YOU Do?


Volunteering is a great way to participate in finding tangible solutions for the problem of e-waste. Look for e-waste recyclers near you, and check out the link below to volunteer at our favorite e-waste recyclers in the Twin Cities.


By educating ourselves about the impact of e-waste on the environment and the steps we can take to reduce our electronic waste footprint, we can contribute to a more sustainable future for ourselves and generations to come.


Enthusiasm is infectious! If you care about this problem, you will likely help some other people care too.

Volunteer at Free Geek!

With a diligent team of volunteers and staff, Free Geek ensures that the donated electronics are put to good use, either through recycling or repair for sale in their thrift store. The thrift store not only provides affordable electronic gadgets but also advocates for sustainable living by reducing electronic waste that is harmful to the environment. If you are near the Twin Cities, you should volunteer at Free Geek!

Meet The Team

Aubrey Adams

Aubrey is a CS major from Brooklyn, NY. Outside of classes, she is a community organizer and advocate for marginalized groups within the chiptune community. That social and technical background was part of the reason she chose to participate in this comps project.

Ann Beimers

Ann is a CS major and a Northfield native, but she is excited to leave Minnesota and travel after graduation. She loves graphic design, sustainability, and cooking.

Emmy Belloni

Emmy is a CS major and Digital Arts and Humanities minor from Davidson, NC. They can be found doing sound engineering, character design, and contemplating how effective stories are told through new mediums.

Tony Qiang

Tony is a CS and Chemistry double major, biochemistry and math double minor. He was born and raised in Beijing, China before he came to Northfield. He loves skiing, playing basketball and making rap music.