Where do our unwanted electronics go when we get rid of them?

service design: Create an Innovative solution to real world problem

For our service design and strategic innovation project, we sought to tackle a growing but lesser known problem affecting people around the world: Electronic Waste. New technology is introduced more frequently than ever before putting added pressure on consumers to purchase new items, but many people don't know what to do with their "outdated" electronics. Unfortunately, most of our electronic waste gets shipped to developing countries where it is broken down in hazardous and unhealthy conditions to resell the precious and rare metals found inside these devices.  From our research we designed a pick up service that is fast, free, convenient and highly accessible to the public. It meets people at their point of need and rewards recycling habits.

Scope: 10 weeks

Other team members: James Vanié, Ruth Tupe

My role: Conducted user interviews, extensive academic research, contributed to presentation decks. Produced and edited pitch video. 

the problem:

Developed Countries

Information about properly recycling or disposing of unwanted electronics is not well understood among the general public.  Many view their devices as disposable and don't know that they end up in largely illegal landfills around the world.  Existing buy back services don't take back all electronics and doesn't provide any recourse.  

Infographic by Column Five

Developing Countries

Since 2015, Fifty-one million tons of electronic devices are thrown away every year creating seventy percent of the world's toxic waste.  The continued impact to local community environments and health where this waste ends up is devastating. Through unsafe extraction methods people are exposed to conditions that can cause cancer, reproductive disorders and brain damage.  

Chilrden extracting metal from e-waste landfill in Agbogbloshie, Ghana.

The Process:

We started by mapping out the life span of electronics from production to landfill. We wanted to understand the incentives involved for all parties from the resource extractors to manufacturers to consumers, and ultimately to the people who put their health at risk working in these horrible conditions.


Our research methodology included co-creation workshops, user and expert interviews, surveys, literature review, and competitive analysis.  We learned that although people were concerned about this problem they were not motivated to take action, but instead were willing to be more environmentally responsible if they are incentivized with money or credit.

Co-creation workshop

User Interview

User Interview

the design: 

This project went through many iterations over the course of our semester, but we kept testing each pivot with real people to ensure that our solution would solve their needs for better electronic recycling options, and keep more electronics out of landfills. Some of the key insights were:

I. Consumers lack understanding of electronic lifecycle

II. Money is greatest motivator to use recycling service

III. People don't know how to properly dispose of e-Waste; they           keep it in a box or throw it in the garbage

IV. Value of personal time outweighs perceived value of device


From this research, we developed a deep understanding of contextual layers about people's behaviors and personal knowledge about e-waste and recycling. Not just a pick-up service, it also helps businesses reduce their manufacturing costs, serves people by giving them more value for their unwanted electronics, and helps preserve our environment by keeping more devices out of landfills and more resources in the ground.

Ultimately, we wanted people to view their unwanted electronics as the resources that they are.