Erasing E-Waste

An international youth-led organization that mitigates the e-waste crisis through education, community events, and crowdsourced data.

Photo of Justin Shnayder
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Please confirm you meet the following criteria

  • We have submitted the supplemental form linked in the description above
  • We are aged between 14 - 20 as of February 11, 2021
  • We live in the United States or its territories (Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa)
  • We are not employed by, or directly related (parents or siblings) to a current General Motors (GM) or Ashoka employee
  • We have been working on this project for at least three months
  • We consent to Ashoka and/or GM featuring our work on their website, social media, and in other materials regarding this Challenge using the information in our application
  • We confirm we have the rights to use and share any content uploaded on this entry form

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Website: https://justinshnayder.wixsite.com/erasingewaste Instagram: @erasing.ewaste

Date You Started Your Project

August 1, 2017

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

As we depart from an era of clunky mouses and monitors, we contribute to the burgeoning e-waste crisis, in which obsolete electronics are not recycled, introducing chemicals like mercury and lead into our environment. After all, less than half of all Americans know what e-waste is, let alone how to recycle it. This is exacerbated by the pandemic, which has shuttered most consumer e-waste recycling programs, making e-waste recycling inaccessible.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Our strategy entails a three-fold approach: education, community e-waste collection events, and crowdsourced data. Prior to conducting any collection events, we host “education sessions.” For residents of our neighborhood, we have presented on the e-waste crisis in town hall meetings attended by almost 100 people; for our classmates, we held seminars about recycling e-waste at club meetings attended by 50 people; for the 30 summer camp students we counseled during the summer of 2019, we developed interactive lessons on how to recycle e-waste. For each group, we then organize an e-waste drive held three weeks after the info-sessions, and work with the NY Dept. of Sanitation to recycle all collected electronics. Thus far, we have recycled over 2,500 lbs. of e-waste amongst 5 collection events (3 in our community, 1 in our school, and 1 during the summer camp). When the pandemic complicated the Dept. of Sanitation’s recycling efforts, we developed a geo-spatial algorithm that predicts where to host e-waste drives based on crowdsourced data from weekly surveys sent to the 500+ Staten Islanders registered with us, enabling us to focus our efforts on areas in critical need of recycling.

3. Please tell us how you are using science, technology, engineering or math to address your environmental challenge.

STEM is an integral element of addressing our environmental challenge. In our education sessions for our neighbors, our classmates, and summer camp participants, we make extensive use of mathematics by highlighting the magnitude of the e-waste recycling dilemma both home and abroad. Moreover, by delivering these statistics through infographics using online programs (Canva), we use technology to ensure that the e-waste crisis isn’t reduced to just numbers, but rather, is explained as a serious issue. Our geo-spatial algorithm also makes use of technology. After learning about how to create zip-code based heat maps from data inputted into google sheets using R, we applied our knowledge to developing our algorithm. We use a google form that crowdsources data from monthly surveys and inputs the generated information (zip-code and # of lbs. of e-waste) into google sheets. Our algorithm then develops a cloropleth map using the inputted data and suggests locations on where to host e-waste drives (public parks near “red zones”). This technology instantaneously provides us with a robust analysis of the e-waste recycling needs of all 149 zip-codes in NYC and how to best meet those needs.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

Finals week—seventh grade. While our minds were preoccupied with the impending disaster of taking the upcoming tests, our English teacher was preoccupied with a disaster of her own: her printer ran out of ink right when she was printing our exams! She mindlessly discarded the ink cartridge into the plastic recycling bin, scoffing when we asked if it belonged there. Returning home that day, Alexandra and I decided to google how to recycle ink cartridges, and little did we know, our findings catalyzed a four-year long project that has since impacted hundreds of people and recycled thousands of pounds of e-waste. We learned of the dangerous chemicals in electronics and how their improper disposal can contaminate soil, water reservoirs, and thus impact our own health. We ultimately embarked on a journey to ‘erase e-waste’ and address its harmful effects on the environment.

5. Video (Keep it simple, your phone on selfie-mode is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

Prior to executing our ideas, we extensively researched the elements of each project. For example, when Alexandra and I first began hosting e-waste drives, we consulted various online resources on how to organize the aforementioned collection events. In order to develop our geo-spatial algorithm, we participated in a free online course on programming in R, which provided us with the key knowledge on how to develop choropleth maps from user-end data.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

Erasing E-Waste is a pioneer in community-based e-waste recycling. Just last year, we hosted the first in-school e-waste drive in NY. However, we didn’t settle, and to this day, we continue to push the frontiers in addressing the e-waste crisis. Private e-waste organizations tend to offer recycling services for individual customers and businesses at high premiums, and government-subsidized e-waste recycling may be difficult to navigate due to bureaucratic issues. Our services are the first to meet the needs of our community on a hyper-local level efficiently, strategically, and at no cost.

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made.

Although the pandemic complicated our efforts in organizing e-waste drives, which have (cumulatively) brought together ~300 donators to recycle nearly 3,000 pounds of electronics, the last three months offered us the opportunity to pursue COVID-safe projects in depth. For example, we participated in a virtual panel on youth activism sponsored by the Warbler Organization in December, discussing our story and our project to an audience of nearly 100 like-minded teenagers. Additionally, our geo-spatial algorithm, which relies on user-end data we harvest from weekly surveys, has been filled out over 12,000 times in the past three months, allowing us to conduct a robust analysis of the e-waste crisis in Staten Island. This way, once conditions permit us to host e-waste drives, their location will be determined strategically, streamlining the recycling process for at-risk populations.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Over the next few months, our plan is to expand our base of geo-spatial survey respondents to more Staten Islanders, and eventually, to all NYC residents. NYC Council Leader Corey Johnson’s correspondence unit has expressed interest in this initiative. Thus, we would like to resume our partnership with the NY Dept. of Sanitation and work with the office of Council Leader Johnson to provide e-waste recycling services to all New Yorkers by hosting e-waste drives in areas that our algorithm indicates are problematic. We would also like to develop a fundraising strategy to revive the e-Cycle-NYC program, which has previously provided accessible e-recycling options to city residents, but has been shuttered due to COVID-induced budget cuts.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

Mobilizing our community to recycle e-waste has depended on the two A's: awareness and awards. We implemented this philosophy in 2019 while mentoring 30 middle school students in a STEM summer camp sponsored by our high school. We highlighted the implications of improper e-waste recycling through interactive lessons, and announced an e-waste drive to be held at the end of the program, with the 10 highest contributors to be awarded with a pizza party. Ultimately, 500 lbs. of e-waste was recycled.

11. How would you partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

Our platform is built on youth activism, and it is our mission to facilitate youth involvement in addressing environmental injustice. A pivotal aspect of our e-waste drives are education campaigns (which have reached over 2,500 people) where we inspire others, like an environmentalist and former summer camper from Bihar, India, to make change. We provided her with resources on how to organize an e-waste drive in her hometown, a project that she has since expanded to two neighborhoods.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

The power of our organization’s Instagram is vested in its potential to reach many people—it has already grown to 100 followers in a few weeks! By showcasing our projects, providing statistics on the e-waste crisis, and facilitating live ‘education sessions,’ we can meaningfully engage our followers and potential e-waste recyclers. This philosophy has been already implemented in the physical world, where we encourage participation in e-waste drives through incentives such as gift cards.

13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Donations less than $100

14. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you? You’ll be able to select only one option.

  • Web/Mobile Development

Are you employed, or directly related (grand-parents, parents, sibling) to a GM or Ashoka employee?

  • No

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media
  • Search engine
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Attachments (4)

IMG_8350.JPG

One of the cloropleth maps produced by our geo-spatial algorithm. The red zones indicate areas where survey respondents have indicated that they have a large amount of e-waste to recycle.

Aug 2018 E-Waste Drive.jpg

A group of volunteers helping an e-waste collection event we co-sponsored in partnership with a Staten Island Counciman!

IMG_0529.PNG

Some of the e-waste we collected at the August 2017 e-waste collection event.

IMG_0525.PNG

Our team of youth changemakers helping out at our first e-waste collection event in Princes Bay, Staten Island. (August 2017)

2 comments

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Spam
Photo of Carson McBain
Team

Your strong commitment to tackling e-waste is so clear, and it's inspiring to see what you've accomplished! The e-waste predicting algorithm is fascinating, and I can see this technology being widely applied to solve a variety of issues, including but not limited to e-waste. Have you thought of open-sourcing this resource to other environmental changemakers? Another thing I love about your work is how you are getting other young people involved as champions of e-waste reduction. Keep up the great work with partnerships - I'm sure it is no easy feat to get to where you are with the NY Dept of Sanitation and Corey Johnson's office. Reading your work, I was reminded of an Ashoka Young Changemaker called Rafa who runs a similar e-waste initiative in Indonesia. Maybe the two of you could connect? If you search "Rafa" on Ashoka's site you'll find a link. I'll leave you with some food for thought (that I have been struggling with myself lately) - since tech is increasingly in our lives and devices need to be periodically traded in or updated, I wonder if "reduce" could be complementarily added to your "recycle" mission? I know it's nearly impossible to stop using technology unless you want to be a hermit in the woods, but I often think about what is our responsibility as far as generating e-waste. Maybe there are little things we could do - If every smartphone user in the world waited until their phone was on its last legs to trade it in for a newer model, for example, instead of upgrading every 2 years regardless of the necessity, that would make a huge reduction in e-waste. Or taking some environmentally friendly action to help offset the carbon footprint of shipping e-waste to warehouses, taking it apart and melting it down etc. I don't know if this is a realistic goal, but I think it's a part of the system you're working to change. I am so inspired by your work and will think of you whenever I correct someone throws an ink cartridge in the trash. Keep up the great work and maybe I'll read more about you in the future!

Spam
Photo of Justin Shnayder
Team

Thank you so much for your feedback and suggestions! I looked into Rafa's story and was touched by his mission to address the e-waste crisis. Also, we are hoping to open-source our algorithm this summer once we add additional features and improve its accuracy on GitHub.