Past Projects

International E-Waste Design Competition /Sustainable Electronics Competition

E-waste Design Competition

During the Spring 2009 semester, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) students were challenged to create appealing, useful products from e-waste. Participants were encouraged to enroll in a School of Art and Design course on sustainability and e-waste issues (ARTD 391/591) taught by industrial design Professor William Bullock. Students in this class conducted an e-waste collection on campus to gather unused CPUs, monitors, keyboards, mice, printers, scanners and cell phones as fodder for design competition projects. Educational goals for the students included learning about ways to re-use e-waste for new and productive means, exploring ideas for how to address e-waste problems, and contributing to the body of knowledge that advances the practice of environmentally responsible product design for current and future computing technology products.

In 2010, the competition expanded to a global scale where applicants were asked to submit their videos of their entries. While the competition has expanded to an international scale, Professor Bullock’s class participated with the local Champaign County Electronics Recycling Drive, and the class received donated electronics from Advanced Technology Recycling, which was used by the students to participate in the e-waste competition.

The competition continued to evolve, and lasted through 2013. See for more information about the competition or contact Joy Scrogum.

ENG/TE 498--"Sustainable Technology: Environmental and Social Impacts of Innovations."

Taught Spring 2014. Dr. Brian Lilly of the Technology Entrepreneur Center was the professor of record for this course, developed and taught by SEI staff members Joy Scrogum and Kirsten Walker. The class introduced the environmental and social impacts associated with technology at each stage of the product life cycle (design, manufacture, consumption, and disposal/recovery). Electronic products were used as a special case study and provided the framework for discussion of complex legal, economic, social, and environmental considerations. For their final course project, student groups could choose to prepare a mock entry for the then defunct International Sustainable Electronics Competition or to work on developing an online repair guide via the iFixit Technical Writing Project. (Note: SEI continues to coordinate UIUC participation in this project throught the Illini Gadget Garage. See for links to guides developed as part of this course and through Illini Gadget Garage efforts.)

ISTC Sustainable Electronics Seminar Series

In Fall 2012, ISTC hosted a series of webinars focused on sustainable electronics issues, featuring research and perspectives from members of the University of Illinois community and experts from around the country. For more information and webinar archives, see the ISTC website.

The final webinar in the Fall 2012 series was the International E-Waste Video Festival, at which the winners of the 2012 International E-Waste Design Competition were announced.

Reducing E-waste Through Purchasing Decisions

It is often the case that purchasing decisions for electronic office equipment, such as computers, printers, and fax machines, are not made with the equipment end-of-life disposition in mind. Sometimes, the end result is either disposal through the trash or through unchecked third-party disposal companies which increase the potential for environmental contamination. With funding from ISTC’s Sponsored Research Program, the Delta Institute and the Green Electronics Council teamed up in an attempt to achieve the following goals in the green purchasing sector:

  • Identify opportunities and barriers for end-of- life purchasing decisions
  • Identify and document strategies linking purchasing & disposal options for electronics
  • Increase the recycling & reuse rates of e-waste
  • ISTC Sustainable Electronics Seminar SeriesISTC Sustainable Electronics Seminar Series  

    Examples of e-waste landfill (left) and recycling facility (right)

    A New Life for Laptops

    A New Life for Laptops

    Laptops used by government agencies and various industries typically have their hard drives removed and destroyed/erased prior to recycling as a data security measure. Funded by a grant from Dell to ISTC, cross-disciplinary teams of students, under the guidance of Professors William Bullock (Industrial Design), Hong Yuan (Business Administration), Cliff Shin (Industrial Design), and Brian Lilly (Engineering), worked in the Spring 2012 semester to create entirely new or previously unexplored applications for these discarded laptops without the addition of new hard drives. The goal was to extend the useful life of valuable materials prior to recycling. The class presented their final ideas to representatives from Dell, and then also as part of ISTC's Sustainability Seminar series as a webinar. The archived webinar and presentation slides are available on the ISTC web site at

    Electronics & Sustainability: Design for Energy and the Environment

    The Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) and Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), a unit of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, hosted a symposium entitled Electronics & Sustainability: Design for Energy and the Environment, February 23-24, 2010 at the I Hotel and Conference Center on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    For more information, visit the Symposia page on this web site.

    Life Cycle Length within Product Take-Back

    Professors Deborah Thurston and Harrison Kim and their students within the Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign(UIUC) Yuan Zhao and Vijitashwa Pandey worked on a project researching life cycle lengths within product take-back. By analyzing manufacturing data of recycled computers, they have been able to determine the average and expected life span of computers according to the electronics manufacturer. Their research presents a method for performing long range product portfolio design planning so that the manufacturer can determine optimal take-back times, end-of-life design decisions, and number of lifecycles.

    Their research findings were awarded the Best Paper Award at the ASME Design for Manufacturing and the Lifecycle Conference in San Diego, California. Additionally, Professors Thurston and Kim presented their research at the Electronics and Sustainability Symposium on February 23, 2010.

    Hard Drive Re-imaging Data

    PC Rebuilders and Recyclers (PCRR) offers two electronics drop off locations, one at their warehouse (3053 N. Knox, Chicago, IL 60641) and another at Goose Island. PCRR clears computer hard drives of any information, refurbishes or recycles the hardware (it is only recycled if it cannot be refurbished), and the refurbished machines are then donated to non-profit organizations, schools, churches, low income families, and others. During the data-wiping process, PCRR collects basic hardware data for research purposes. The information collected includes: data of hard drive manufacture, first and last dates used, date of donation, manufacturer, and model of the computer. Given this information, SEI performed analyses in order to determine the age of the computer, years of use and storage, as well as reimaging data. The quantitative data provided by PCRR provided detailed analytical information used to determine the average lifespan and storage of computers based on their manufacturer and model. In addition, the data allowed for further research to compare the life span of the hardware with the life span of the computer image used on computers. See the technical report, PCRR E-Waste Stream Analysis.

    Design for Energy and the Environment Laboratory

    The Design for Energy and the Environment Laboratory (DEE Lab) conducts collaborative product design and development research focusing on sustainable, energy-efficient products and product systems. Multidisciplinary teams of research faculty and students from design, engineering, and marketing address leading-edge challenges in semester-long projects. Projects provide an opportunity to address problems with a fresh, independent perspective outside the typical corporate routine. Through spon¬sored projects, members have the opportunity to work with and assess potential hires. DEE Lab is located at ISTC, a neutral site facilitating research collaboration and research sharing between competitors.

    EPEAT Standards Development

    Members of the Sustainable Electronics Initiative were active members of the Electronics Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) standards development committees in the past. EPEAT is a system which gives purchasers a way to compare electronics based on their environmental impacts. Manufacturers and their computers can receive a Gold, Silver, or Bronze rating. You can find out about EPEAT criteria here. While criteria existed for computers (desktops and laptops), EPEAT worked to develop standards for imaging equipment and televisions. SEI staff and partners worked together with various stakeholders, who included members of the environmental community, manufacturers, public and private purchasers, resellers, recyclers, refurbishers, and other interested parties. If you would like to get involved with EPEAT standards development, you can do so here.