Call for Action: Let us fight electronic waste together!

The 18th debate of the Digital Dialogue Series, a collaborative event planned by CTIN and the International Civil Society Centre (ICSC), took place on the 1st of February 2024, with the theme: “We Have the Right to Fight Electronic Waste”. The discussion highlighted ways in which people collaborate in their practice and advocacy efforts to fight electronic waste, and how the easiest way to do this would be through getting involved in local repair movements and networks, and by supporting socio-environmental justice. This article will provide a summary of the debate alongside reflections between the attendees and the panelists.

Written by Rofhatutshedzwa Ramaswiela

Teresa Dillon is an Artist, Researcher, and Professor of City Futures at the School of Art, UWE, Bristol. Teresa, who leads the Urban Hosts and Repair Acts programmes. opened the debate by sharing the pluralist programme called Repair Acts and how it is an artist-led programme. Teresa, further mentioned how artist practices sit at the heart of the Repair Act Programme and that the programme’s impact extends beyond the United Kingdom across countries such as Brazil and India. Teresa also mentioned the importance of looking at art forms, mapping local histories, or repair economies, and how they change over time.

“We live in a society where we are constantly being marketed and enticed to buy more. In a way, repair is a hopeful future, and it can help in some ways provide a sensibility on how we deal with the climate, but on the whole, we need to be consuming less.”

Edoardo Bodo, Environment Policy Officer at RREUSE represents social enterprises in EU policy processes, focusing on the re-use, repair, and recycling of waste streams. His experience in European governance and work in the Council of the European Union brings a critical perspective on circular economy legislation and argues for the importance of working together to fight electronic waste. Edoardo mentions that reuse is a network of social enterprise representing the circular economy and how working with a few people from sectors such as electronic, vulnerable, and marginalized is of the essence. This is because ‘the production of electronics has enormous impacts.’ Furthermore, Edoardo emphasised that ‘E-waste is special because it is both valuable and toxic’. However, consumers need to focus on the 3 Rs, (re-use, repair, and recycle) and how people need to be consumers who are against consumerism.

Mehita Iqani, is a South African Research Chair in Science Communication at Stellenbosch University. With a rich background in Media Studies and a focus on consumer culture, waste, and the global South, Mehita argued that every single item that people consume through the media, comes from raw materials, highlighting the ‘political and material realities of media’. Mehita illustrated how artists are relating to electronic waste as a form of social activism. For example, Francois Knutze, a South African multimedia artist, works with various forms of waste and makes people think about their relationship to the material world in profound and sometimes provocative ways. Francois Knutze has collected different types of e-waste and then fashions these marvellous, fantastical creatures through sculptures while also showcasing these artworks through performance art and films.

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‘’It is important to act now and to choose if we want a more sustainable model of development’’, Edoardo said. It is also important to note that the ‘’Role of artistic practice, the role in repair acts, that translational work, is grounding tech into the earth’’. Some of the questions that came out are, how are the green workers being treated now and would that influence how they are treated in the future? What are the conditions in which repair will take place?

In closing, it is important that people fight electronic waste. While the global South bears the brunt of the e-waste crisis, actors in the global North could benefit from alliances and partnerships to lobby governments for greater environmental justice. People need to start working together more in addressing common issues. Secondly, consumers need to become better consumers and start being activist consumers. The discussion revealed that there is a lot to be learnt from artists, and local repair practices and economies, especially those in cities of the global South. Thirdly, Teresa advocated for extending the 3Rs motto to include the word ‘Refuse’, arguing that global residents have the power vested in them to affect positive change. Lastly, time and time again, people assume that they need to start big to make change, to contribute. However, this is not necessarily true, people can start small, they can start where they are, with what they have. What is important is to START!

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