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US-China competition encourages ideas to prevent electronic waste

April 14, 2014

With rapid advances in technology, electronic products tend to become unusable after just a few short years. Computers, DVD players, refrigerators, cell phones, copiers and televisions are just a few examples of electronic products that typically wind up as electronic waste (e-waste), filling landfills both domestically and internationally.

Approximately 50 million tons of e-waste is produced each year, and only about 15 to 20 percent of it is recycled. If not handled properly, e-waste can have a significant adverse effect on human and environmental health.

The U.S.-China Green Electronics Competition launched this week is tackling this challenge head-on. The United States and China, two of the world’s biggest e-waste producers, have joined forces to raise awareness of the effects of e-waste and promote sustainable solutions. The challenge is an unprecedented worldwide online DIY competition focused on preventing the creation of e-waste.

Spearheaded by the Future Tense initiative, a partnership of Arizona State University, New America Foundation, and Slate magazine, and China's Tsinghua University in collaboration with other partners, the competition invites U.S. and Chinese makers to find creative ways to turn yesterday's electronics into tomorrow's technology.

“This exciting initiative engages creative young people not only in Arizona and around the U.S., but innovators in China as well,” said Patricia Reiter, director of ASU's Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives. “Supporting the sustainable efforts of preventing e-waste on the international level represents a tremendous opportunity for inspiring innovation and cultural exchange.”

Challenge participants are invited to upcycle or hack an electronic product to create a new electronic product; repair an electronic product; create a sustainable electronic product; or create artwork from used electronic products. The competition emphasizes the growing trend of the maker movement, a technology-based extension of the do-it-yourself (DIY) culture.

“At the core, we are all tinkers and makers,” said Micah Lande, assistant professor of engineering at ASU’s Fulton Schools of Engineering. “We build our worlds around interacting through technology. Today’s DIY movement has characteristics that allow us to showcase our creations online. So now we can expand the movement from DIY to ‘do-it-together,’ and broaden our community as we create and make with others around the world.”

Innovative ideas for how to prevent e-waste can be submitted through, from April 7 to May 31. Following a round of public voting, a panel of judges will choose the best selections from each country. Winners will receive prizes, as well as the opportunity to showcase their creations on Slate.

Judges include Victor Koo, founder and CEO of YouKu Tudou Inc. in China; Mitzi Montoya, ASU’s vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation; Chris Anderson, former Wired editor; Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab; and Sun Hong Bin, dean of Educational Affairs at Tsinghua University. Partners include Instructables, TechShop,, XinCheJian, Autodesk and Inventables.

Phoenix-area competitors can take advantage of ASU’s innovative atmosphere and the university’s first-of-its-kind partnership with TechShop, the DIY workshop and fabrication studio. The TechShop at the ASU Chandler Innovation Center will be hosting a kickoff event for the competition on April 14.

For more information about the competition and how you can get involved, please visit: