Weekly Recap: Figuring out Problem Spaces

The week before last (like every other week actually), was crazy! We took a vote on our ‘favorite’ problem spaces, selected three solid areas of friction in the e-waste cycle and presented this at Cisco.

So after all the meetings (Skype and tête-à-tête), visits to repair shops, desk research and interaction we came up with a huge ( and kind of scary too) flow of resources, constraints and problems that the formal sector, the informal sector, the bridge between the first two, the makerspaces and the repair shops.

There were two versions of this mapping. One beautifully chaotic mapping, courtesy of Lisanne. You will find some occasional scribbles from Iain on this one. And another more clean (presentable is the important word here) version – thank you Tarun! Not to be stereotypical, but my mother would swoon over this boy’s handwriting like I did (I think Lisanne might have as well)!


Image-1The neat one!

We narrowed down every possible problem we could identify into six main ones that encompassed all others on the map. We did get into a little of a tie-breaking issue for which Sruthi came to the rescue, and ultimately got our three problem spaces that will define the rest of this project. The first – people in the informal sector are perceived poorly by citizens, the second – there is a general lack of education and awareness about e-waste amongst citizens, and third – there’s a notion of ‘unprofitable’ e-waste, material recyclers aren’t willing to take in.

The informal sector does consist of marginalized society – poor ragpickers and kabadiwalas. While these people might not actually have the recycling technology that institutions like E-Parisaraa do have, they have an intrinsic knowledge of the recycling process – what can be recoverable and what cannot, how material can be extracted without much technology – and spatial awareness. Where the formal sector lacks in its waste collection abilities, the informal sector shines. However one doesn’t get a very ‘healthy’ image of the informal sector and its practices. The general perception of is one of poverty, dirt and illegal recycling methods.

Now coming to why we chose this as a problem a space. The informal sector, like mentioned above, has invaluable resources in terms of both manpower and collection skills (the informal sector currently handles 95% of e-waste that enters the cycle). The poor perception however is possibly leading to an unwillingness to associate with them and ergo, smaller numbers in terms of the amount e-waste that even enters the cycle. If we could address the negative perception that exists, we could potentially increase the quantity of waste that is given up for recycling.

As with a lot of issues there’s always a lack of awareness and education. Indians don’t know or simply don’t care about their e-waste. CEE told us that there’s just one page in CBSE textbooks that talks about e-waste. (From the amount of desk research we’ve done one page doesn’t cover it. At all.) Pretty shockingly, some of the repair shops didn’t know what e-waste is. (Getting worried, anyone?)

Sahaas has 1.2 tons of e-waste the no one is willing to pick up. Why? Because it’s ‘unprofitable’. WIth the overhead costs of formal sector recycling I suppose looking for ‘profitable’ e-waste is key to survival. But this doesn’t excuse the amount of unattended e-waste that’s potentially ruining the environment and taking up space. Makerspaces like the Banjarpalya Makerspace could be likely partners in dealing with this issue. Waste of one is resource of another, or so we hope!


IMG_6754Three way video call, Cisco style.

Our Cisco meeting was on Dussehra. Cisco was closed for the festival (we figured this out a few hours before the meeting). Security opened the place just for us (#feelingfancy). It was eerie, the office didn’t even smell the same without all it’s employees. (Is perfume that potent?) Barcelona has finally come on board, yay! We finally got to meet and have our first official three-way meeting. The Amsterdam team, with Dutch Design Week going on up there, had the meeting not at Cisco but at Jan’s home. His dog was the cutest distraction ever (insert heart-eyed emoji here). They’ve been conducting research on smartphones using the love/hate letter as a design tool.

Our upcoming sprint focuses on what we can do to address these three problem spaces and come up with three clear concepts that we can narrow down on. Good luck to us!


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