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Waste Not, Want Not

A competition is inspiring creative ways to reuse electronic goods that are otherwise bound for the rubbish bin

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Fifty million tonnes of electronic waste is produced each year globally, and the Environmental Protection Agency estimates only 15% is recycled, with the rest going directly into landfill and incinerators. 

Pantip.com founder Wanchat Padungrat shows a shelf cabinet made by old computer towers.

In Thailand about five million pieces of e-waste are produced annually, increasing about 12% every year. So far, there has hardly been any action to deal with the rapidly growing volume of discarded electronic devices. But now, the first initiative in Thailand to transform e-waste into valuable items through creative design has arrived.

Pantip.com, Thailand's No.1 local website, is holding a "Use Me Again" contest, inviting the public to invent items made from reused IT goods that would otherwise be bound for the bin.

The contest, which is open for submissions until May 17, has been introduced along with an upgraded system and new look for the pantip.com website.

The site has also appointed cartoon character "Papan" as the brand ambassador for the green initiative.

The contest encourages online citizens to be aware of global warming and exercise their imagination to create items that can be commercialised and stimulate the public to reduce e-waste.

"Pantip is concerned about the environmental issue, but we don't have any experience in this field, so we talked to Dr Singh Intrachooto who came up with the idea of IT products. Each IT good is expensive, potentially poisonous, and difficult to recycle, so its reuse should be in such a way that we can actually use it," said Wanchat Padungrat, the managing director of Internet Marketing, which operates pantip.com.

"This small activity is analogous with a leaf that produces oxygen into the atmosphere. Each leaf may produce a small quantity, but when it joins with other leaves on a tree, and with other trees into a forest, one small leaf can be a part of rebalancing the climate and serving the lives for the next generation."

Dr Singh, head of the Building Innovation and Technology Programme at Kasetsart University, is the committee member involved in the contest. He noted that there is a lot of e-waste but little has ever been reused.

"In other countries, there has not been this kind of initiative, not even in Japan. The solution must be answered by the pure design and the assembly technique," said the contest committee.

Because of this, one of the key criteria for judging is that the items should be fresh inventions no one has seen before.

A speaker made from jamjuree , a pea tree.

Dr Singh is considered a pioneer in ecological design in Thailand. He said that six years ago, a survey found that consumer awareness of eco-friendly products was zero, and two years ago this had increased to 5%. He expects this year's survey to reveal awareness has grown by 10% as people become more concerned about the environment.

Thailand Environment Institute president Qwanruedee Chotichanathawewong notes that every home has at least one television, computer and mobile phone. The population of 60 million people comprises 10 million households, meaning there are about two to three million personal computers, and thus a high amount of electronic waste. Even though Thailand has factories to repair computers, the machines that get thrown away outnumber those that are sent to be fixed.

"It's better to reuse IT products rather than recycle because it does not involve any transforming process," she said.

Qwanruedee points out that environmental management should be primarily driven by the government, while the private sector can help the environmental initiative to move forward. Electrical waste contains hazardous and scarce materials, and valuable materials such as copper and steel.

One problem experienced in Thailand was that villagers broke open e- waste without the proper knowledge.

Because of the materials inside, that can be hazardous.

"People who understand the value of these materials should work together with the designers, so the green products that come with a good design can be commercialised."

The project wants designers to create the products based on reusing, rather than recycling, helping reduce the waste upstream. Although the contest does not answer waste management throughout the country, and is a short-term project, it will encourage users to appreciate the value of the products.

Qwanruedee says e-waste can be managed more easily than waste from packaging products. For people wishing to reuse e-waste, they should avoid exposing the devices to heat.

"In the past, we were able to send some e-waste to Laos, but today they don't want it any more _ they now prefer the flat panel monitor to a heavy CRT display _ so we must solve the problem via a new channel."

She said entries in the contest should mainly consider the environment, functionality, how the materials are modified and if the modification has been done in the right way. The invented items should not be just for one-time use; the sustainability of the items is also a focus.

For instance, Yuttana Anothaisintawee, founder of the brand The ReMaker, uses thrown-away items as his inspiration for lifestyle goods. The ReMaker's eco-friendly products include fashion handbags made from used clothes, and most of its products are for the export market. The latest reused product Yuttana created is a phone case made from disposed computer motherboards.

The submission of proposals to the contest is valid from today until May 17. Application forms can be downloaded from www.pantip.com/usemeagain and contestants can submit the application and photos to usemeagain@pantip.com.

The committee will select 10 pieces for the semi-final round and announce these on the website on May 31.

The 10 pieces will be presented on the Pantip.com website, where members will vote. The winners will be announced on June 26 and all 10 pieces will be displayed at an exhibition.

The first prize is a ticket to the United Kingdom to visit the "100% Design London" exhibition in September, valued at more than 100,000 baht, plus a trophy. Second prize is a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro valued at 66,000 baht with a trophy. Third prize is a MacBook Air.

Yuttana Anothaisintawee, owner of The ReMaker brand, creates a phone case made from disposed computer motherboards.

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