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Jamais Cascio, 28 Apr 05

weeeman.jpgSustainability Sundays readers will recognize WEEE -- the EU's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive, mandating that manufacturers of electric and electronic devices accept and properly recycle "end of life" equipment. WEEE will become law across the EU this summer, and the directive will go into effect as of January 2006. The goal of WEEE is to reduce the amount of electronic gear going into the waste stream; a corresponding directive, Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS), limits and prohibits a variety of toxic substances in printed circuit boards.

In order to publicize the onset of WEEE in the UK, the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (otherwise known as the RSA) has crafted the WEEE Man, a 7 meter sculpture made up of discarded electric and electronic appliances. The WEEE Man represents all the device waste a single UK citizen will discard in a typical lifetime: 3,300 kilograms, or over 7,200 pounds. The WEEE Man sculpture is now on display on London's South Bank, near Tower Bridge (very close to the location from where I took the photo shown here earlier this year).

The WEEE Man has a "Visible Man meets the Terminator via Best Buy" look to it, and is (in my opinion) remarkable both as a piece of public art and as a piece of public education. (Photos of the sculpture, including a much larger version of the press image used above, can be found here.) The WEEE Man website is also quite interesting, with abundant information about product manufacturing life cycles (including references to Cradle to Cradle and Natural Capitalism), details on the WEEE Directive, even a quick calculator of the estimated footprint of the various mobile phones and PCs in one's life (this last is based on information for EU countries only, so your footprint mileage may vary).

The WEEE Man site also includes a section giving information on what individuals and organizations can do to reduce their device waste footprints. Some of the suggestions are just common sense -- more responsibility in purchases, more recycling and repair of existing gear, that sort of thing -- and some are more technical, particularly the information for businesses needing to comply with WEEE/RoHS.

The RSA developed the WEEE Man project as part of a larger endeavor, an agenda they call Moving Towards a Zero Waste Society. Such a society would require full design for disassembly, cradle-to-cradle production processes, and an aggressive effort to eliminate toxins. It's an ambitious goal -- but ambitious goals are the ones worth pursuing.

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It's wonderful to see this blend of art, design, sustainable education and social programming. Thanks for sending us such reliable reports Jamais.

Posted by: Jennifer Evonne on 30 Apr 05

This is a great project.

You may also be interested to visit this website to read the latest info and to organise a WEEE Collection by searching the directory of UK WEEE Recyclers & Refurbishers.

Posted by: Lee Sykes on 3 May 05



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