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How Photographer Benjamin Von Wong is Using Discarded Tech to Power the Future
You're home relaxing and suddenly your laptop blue-screens. After hours of troubleshooting and frustratingly unhelpful shakes of the head from a geek squad, you learn the motherboard is fried and there's no chance of saving it. You grit your teeth and accept it. Guess you're in the market for a new model.
A spilled coffee shorts out a pair of headphones. The TV remote makes a good chew toy for the dog. Baby drool gets into the wrong crevasses of a phone after their stubby fingers have dropped it multiple times, shattering the screen.
The list goes on and on, and while frustrating, we accept the unfortunate fate of our everyday technology and start looking for a new replacement— after all, life must go on.
Have you ever stopped to wonder what really happens to the technological refuse from days past? The TV remote you trashed last week is headed for the local landfill, right along with the keyboard, laptop, and numerous other electronics that have recently conked out in your immediate vicinity.
All these things add up to a rising problem called e-waste. It is a common issue with major environmental implications the average consumer does not think twice about. This is something that must change, since currently around the globe less than 15% of e-waste is recycled. With a staggering 2010 average of 142,000 computers being thrown away every day in the U.S. alone, the outlook is bleak.
It is in the spirit of positive social change that viral photographer Benjamin Von Wong has recently created a stunning visual campaign for public awareness.
While attending SXSW in 2017, Von Wong learned Dell runs the world's largest global recycling program in over 80 countries. Their biggest problem? Getting more people to recycle.
Since then, Von Wong has made it his mission to make a statement via his photography skills about the serious recycling issues in our world. The internet-viral photographer has now partnered with Dell to create a dazzling three-part series of futuristic images that capitalize on the amount of technology a typical American might use in a lifetime: 4,100 lbs worth, to be exact.
With a team of 50 volunteers working tirelessly for 10 days, Von Wong and his crew sorted through all 4,100 pounds of circuit boards, laptops, keyboards, and more. Sorting them into piles of like and color, he gained a new perspective on the most common items regularly found in the trash. Many of these circuit boards and chips have valuable resources in them that can easily be recycled, such as metals, plastics, and perhaps most importantly: gold. There is more than 800 times the gold present in all the man-made e-waste combined than we could ever find in nature. So why are we throwing it all in landfills?
Once sorted, Von Wong and his team spent many hours coming up with themes and patterns to artistically lay out the refuse. By combining a larger-than-life tone with a retro-futuristic aesthetic, Von Wong was able to make the age-old idea of "reuse, recycle" into a striking visual array of excitement.
A cyber body-painted model added the human touch on top, reminding us of our important role in the future. Says Wong of the project; "Unfortunately, e-waste doesn't make for very interesting dinner conversation. I wanted to change that. All I needed was access to a lifetime of electronic waste."
In some truly eye-opening behind-the-scenes, the photographer emphasizes the importance of seeing the potential in e-waste to power future devices. In their recycling program, Dell uses a Closed-Loop Recycling Process, which means the waste taken in is used to its full potential in gaining a second life.
The closed-loop system is most successfully seen in the way we recycle car batteries; in many places around the U.S, people can bring their old batteries into a center or retailer for a discount or trade-in value on a new one. This system is so efficient, a whopping 99.5% of car batteries are recycled.
Can you imagine if we had this kind of system in place for electronics? Our landfills would have billions less poundage of inorganic waste a year and the toxic runoff from batteries and chemicals in these landfills could be greatly minimized. What's more, the many plastics and metals we find in our electronics can be melted down and reused, diminishing our negative impact on the environment.
After the photoshoot, the e-waste was returned to Dell's recycling centers, gaining a new lease on life to become something pristine and shiny again. Von Wong released the images (along with more behind-the-scenes) on his Instagram, which has almost 95 thousand followers, and wrote a heartfelt blog explaining how grateful he was to be able to explore his passion while releasing a great message to the world.
The resulting response to his project was so positive they launched a website dedicated to the continuing mission of spreading the word at rethinkandrecycle.com.
So, whether your office technology hates you on a random Monday or your cat decides your computer mouse is real enough to bat around, it is time for all of us to be just a little bit more mindful when we go to toss broken technology into the trash. Small changes of both the individual and the corporate mindset can ultimately create a huge shift towards progress.
To paraphrase Von Wong's campaign; "if we can Rethink electronic waste and Recycle them responsibly, then we can Revive them as new parts.... using the past to power the future."
Watch the amazing behind the scenes video of the e-waste campaign here.
You can also view some of Benjamin Von Wong's past work in the "Mermaids Hate Plastic" series, which emphasized the impact of single-use bottles on the environment.
Image credit: Benjamin Von Wong
Information source: blog.vonwong.com