Creating Sustainable Impact - Locally and Globally, Together!

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all by 2030. Adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the SDGs represent a comprehensive and ambitious roadmap for addressing the world's most pressing challenges.

We chose the Sustainable Development Goals as a guiding system for the implementation of our technology and our Human Practices. Our mission is to provide low-barrier synthetic biotechnology to communities worldwide to empower them to recycle and profit from their own e-waste. Thereby, we aim to contribute to a number of different goals directly and indirectly. On this page you can explore our Sustainable Development Impact in our focused goals.

We have also conducted extensive interviews with leading experts on the Sustainable Development Goals whose input helped us to focus our message and employ the Goals as a common language to build our network. Read more about our interviews on our Human Practices page!

Click on the tiles to get to the respective Sustainable Development Impact!

Partnership Focus: Nigeria

Nigeria is a vibrant and populous nation in West Africa, that embodies the richness of culture, the diversity of landscapes, and the complexity of a rapidly evolving society. Its geographical diversity is equally captivating. The country boasts a wide array of ecosystems. However, Nigeria is not without its challenges. Nigeria's e-waste situation reflects a global dilemma: the country has to grapple with a pressing issue that transcends its borders - the mounting crisis of e-waste. There are around 50 million tons of e-waste generated every year. In recent years, this predicament has gained global attention due to its environmental, social, and economic ramifications. As the country strives for technological advancement, it faces the paradox of struggling to manage a surge in electronic waste. Nigeria stands at the crossroads of e-waste disposal and the devastating consequences of illegal recycling, where environmental concerns intertwine with socioeconomic challenges. At the moment, the collection and recycling rate of e-waste in Africa is only 0.9% - compared to the other continents it is the lowest rate worldwide.

One of the primary contributors to Nigeria's e-waste problem is the influx of non-functional electronic devices from other countries, often through illegal shipments. It is estimated that between 250000 and 1,3 million tons of e-waste are shipped from the EU every year and a big part of it is going to West Africa. These discarded electronics, which should be responsibly disposed of, are instead misrepresented as used or refurbished equipment and ultimately end up on Nigerian garbage sites. This illicit trade perpetuates the e-waste crisis, as these devices are not properly handled, recycled, or managed, posing significant environmental threats.

"Lots of non-functional e-waste is coming to Nigeria from other countries through illegal shipments, it is passed off as used electronic and then lands on garbage sites." - Epron

"There is a big problem with illegal black-market recyclers, who recycle in a harmful way for the environment. We fight against that and want to stop this unregulated way of recycling." - Epron

Illegal black-market recyclers operating in Nigeria exacerbate the e-waste dilemma. These unregulated entities employ harmful and environmentally damaging recycling practices, often driven by profit motives without regard for the consequences. The absence of proper oversight and regulation has allowed such practices to flourish, posing serious risks to both the environment and public health. Initiatives have emerged to combat these illegal recycling operations, aiming to bring about a more responsible and sustainable approach to e-waste management. At the moment, mostly elements like aluminum, copper and iron are recycled. When we talk about the recycling of REEs a responsible recycling technique is even more important. When they are handled incorrectly toxic reactions with other compounds may take place.

The scale of Nigeria's e-waste crisis is daunting. Landfills within the country have swelled, filled with discarded electronic devices. An example for that is the Olusosun landfill, which you can find in Lagos, Nigerias largest city. It is 40ha in size, which means it is one of the biggest landfills in the world. And – a huge amount of the waste there is e-waste. These massive waste sites not only mar the landscape but also contribute to soil and water contamination, posing a significant risk to local ecosystems and public health. Furthermore, Nigeria continues to receive millions of metric tons of new, unusable electronic products daily, further exacerbating the e-waste problem.

"There are landfills in Nigeria that are four to five times the size of Luxembourg, filled with e-waste. Additionally, millions of metric tons of new, unusable electronic products arrive in Nigeria on a daily basis." - E-Waste Relief Foundation

Fig 1. | Our interview with Ibukun Faluyi from Epron.

RareCycle has begun to take steps to make a change. We wanted to show the impact RareCycle has on the problem facing Nigeria. We wanted to know which improvements we had to make on RareCycle to ensure the usability of our product in Nigeria and countries like Nigeria. That is why we picked the location Nigeria as our pilot Project Area. We knew the importance of a functional and big network bringing alle the important players to one table. Building a network with several local NGOs, we set up the basis for implementing MycoFlux in local communities facing the mentioned challenges: Reducing illegal recycling techniques and lowering the amount of e-waste being on landfills. These insights were important to us as we could adapt strategies to guarantee a working solution to the e-waste problem.

We talked to experts in the field of SDGs who told us that our idea has potential and is set to sail in the right direction. They agreed and strengthened our belief that Nigeria was a good way to start also, clearing up ethical problems when it comes to e-waste regarding the illegal shipments form first world countries to Nigeria, we connected to the recycling industry in Nigeria and around the world to create a functional value chain. As in outlook we want to build connections to more industry leaders and build an UNESCO partnership to achieve a solution on the big scale.

All of this makes us confident that RareCycle can make a change. Learn more about our solutions to tackle the world's problem of e-waste in the following texts and join us on the journey to make one step of change at a time!

Fig 2. | Our interview with Babafemi Okegbenro, Program Officer of the E-Waste Relief Foundation.

Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Currently, there is a massive backlog of e-waste awaiting recycling, and even more substantial streams of valuable materials, such as rare earth elements, remain untouched within this sea of waste. The recycling industry yearns for groundbreaking technological solutions, finely tuned to unlock the vast potential of these resources. As sobering statistics reveal, by 2030, the global total of e-waste is projected to nearly double, reaching 74.7 million tons. 1 The urgency of this issue is compounded by the fact that just 17.4 percent of electronic waste was documented to be collected and properly recycled worldwide in 2019. 2

Innovations in both industry and infrastructure are desperately needed.

(Bio-)Technological Innovation

Fig 4. | Fungal mycelium containing peptides to which Rare-Earth ions bind.

In response to this pressing challenge, our synthetic biology-driven solutions deliver precisely that: a modular platform tailorable to specific valuable materials (like Rare-Earth Elements) that can be filtered off from dissolved e-waste. By using easy to cultivate fungal mycelium as a matrix for binding domains, as well as producing these proteins directly in the fungi, our technology can be a cost-effective solution that can cater to many industry needs.

We have consulted with industry leader STENA Recycling about the possibility of integrating our bio-based solution into the conventional recycling processes. We have learned from them, that it is a big challenge to efficiently recycling the small (but valuable) amounts of resources like Rare-Earth elements through conventional methods.

Integrating chemically specific methods engineered by synthetic biology with a low cost- and carbon-footprint could be the key to recovering these otherwise discarded resources. STENA Recycling kindly provided us with an industry sample of e-waste from the recycling process. We assessed through bioleaching experiments, that the Rare-Earth content at this stage could allow for a biological extraction at this step.

Fig 5. | Leaching solutions of industry samples at different pH values.

We have connected to many industry stakeholders along the e-waste value chain on our visit to the E-Waste World Conference & Expo 2023 and were met with great enthusiasm for our ideas. Learn more about our visit as well as how we aimed to connect industry with academia on our page for Human Practices!

Decentralizing Infrastructure

Fig 6. | AI generated vision of community workshops for decentralized recycling of e-waste.

E-waste collection infrastructure is a huge topic within itself. We believe, that decentralizing parts of the recycling process by empowering communities to apply biotechnology to their own e-waste, can lift some burdens from the municipal collecting infrastructure. Our approach democratizes the recycling process with low-barrier hardware solutions. It even incentivizes proper e-waste collection via the profits the communities generate from recovering valuable resources like Rare-Earth elements.

But how could small collectives based in community biolabs and community workshops that recycle their own e-waste profit from the recovered resources? To answer this question, we have connected with an innovative startup, that could just answer these question!

SECONTRADE hosts a platform to easily buy and sell recycling resources with very low access barriers, essentially opening the trade market of resources to many more people. Interested communities could sign up and sell their recovered Rare-Earth elements to regional industry buyers to finally complete the circular bioeconomy of e-waste. Their profits could be reinvested into communal collection infrastructure and new biotechnological innovation while the buyers profit from short delivery paths and sustainable sourcing.

Enormous economic potential is currently wasted by our limited recycling capabilities, with electronic waste's total value estimated at a staggering $57 billion in 2019. 3 Let’s unlock this value for a more sustainable future!

“SECONTRADE offers the opportunity for small businesses or regional collectives to market their materials themselves easily and uncomplicatedly via the platform. Especially for smaller market participants, the platform ensures a digital distribution channel with a wide reach. [...] We have already noticed interest from decentralized and regional communities, especially in dealing with biogenic residues, to trade their materials on SECONTRADE. But regional collectives related to e-waste recycling are also a target audience for our trading platform. Currently, rare earth elements are not yet traded on our platform, but we also see potential here, and the platform is certainly suitable for it.”

Decent Work and Economic Growth

With the global amount of e-waste skyrocketing, there exists a substantial yet overlooked economic potential within the Rare-Earth elements found in our discarded e-waste. 6 In 2019, there was an estimated value of 3.2 billion USD of raw materials in e-waste in Africa. 5 Especially as our resources become increasingly scarce, businesses and communities that strategically engage with this sector are primed for growth and profitability both now and in the years ahead.

Especially in countries of the global south, the current working conditions prevailing in the e-waste sector are utterly unsustainable, posing significant risks to workers and their well-being, mainly due to the dominance of the illegal sector. 4 Unsafe practices like manually stripping e-waste to remove electronic boards for resale or open burning of wires to recover few major components release dangerous chemicals into the environment, endangering the health and safety of the affected communities. 5

"In the future, recycling must be enhanced by integrating the informal sector into the formal sector, in order to establish controlled and safe recycling practices." – E-waste Relief Foundation

But these unsafe practices can be turned into a proper and sustainable industry via low-barrier technology like our MycoFlux and an international supporting network. The core of our approach is a decentralized, community-based framework that shifts the focus to regional stakeholders. We want to empower communities to safely recycle their own e-waste by using sustainable, bioengineered recycling solutions.

By providing our cheap and easily reproducible technology to recover the most valuable resources from e-waste, we want to empower communities to profit from their own e-waste, while improving the working conditions.

“For me it’s a no-brainer that your solution will create new jobs.” - EPRON

“For your recycling system to truly make an impact, it must be all-inclusive and safe. Strategic placement of hubs is crucial. Both rural and urban areas should benefit from the jobs being created, fostering balanced development across Nigeria.” – E-Waste Relief Foundation

“We could imagine integrating your solution into our collection centers, it gives people the opportunity to not only collect the E-waste but go on to the next step and recycle it in a green-way.” - EPRON

Of course, we must make sure that our technology does not fall into the wrong hands. Therefore, we want to focus on collaborating with established partners and networks that know their region and can ensure the proper handling and processing of e-waste.

Collaborative efforts have been instrumental in shaping our vision. We've actively partnered with experts and organizations like Epron and the E-Waste Relief Foundation in Nigeria to refine our concept. Their invaluable insights have emphasized the significance of integrating the community at every stage of our process, ensuring the safety and well-being of all involved in this transformative journey towards sustainable e-waste management and economic advancement. Read more about our learnings from communities in Nigeria in our Human Practices!

"It is imperative to furnish suitable safeguards, such as gloves and vests, for individuals engaged in the recycling process. Furthermore, it is crucial for you to take into account the environmental laws pertaining to the handling of e-waste." – E-waste Relief Foundation

We envision a brighter economic future, where sustainable practices and equitable growth are at the forefront. We are dedicated to assisting and uplifting local communities in addressing pressing global challenges, enabling them to reinvest and enhance their resilience in the face of these issues. Through these initiatives, we aim to build a world where prosperity is shared, sustainable, and empowering for all.

Responsible Consumption and Production

The global production of Rare-Earths from mining increased by over 16% from 2020 to 2021, from 240,000 to 280,000 tons. This increase is largely due to the growing demand for Rare-Earths in a variety of technology products. The increased production has also reinforced the associated environmental impacts, namely the generation of 200,000 tons of toxic waste per gained ton of Rare-Earths or the exposure to radioactive radiation by the workers. 7, 8

The diversity and the number of technological products seem to increase from year to year. Bluetooth headsets, electric scooters, smartwatches all these products require a “responsible production and consumption”. By enabling everyone to recycle their own electronic waste, we contribute to this 12th Sustainable Development Goal.

Fig 7. | How many unused electronic devices are in your drawers?

Millions of technical devices are lying uselessly in drawers, in households around the globe. We have conducted a survey that shows that people are largely underinformed regarding the possibilities of how to supply old electronics to the recycling process. Today, this process is very unengaging, resulting in millions of devices lying dormant in our desks and drawers. Through the possibility to recycle e-waste within one’s community, everyone will be aware that they have an influence on a sustainable and responsible technological future.

Here you can read the full analysis of our survey!

E-Waste is not just an issue in the global south. It is a global concern that affects even our own cities and neighborhoods!

Wanting to assess the scale of this challenge in our part of the world and in our society, we conducted a local survey.

Our survey had three primary objectives. First, we aimed to determine the number and types of electronic devices that people have accumulated in their homes. Second, we sought to understand the reasons behind the non-recycling of these devices and identify potential ways to improve recycling practices. Lastly, we wanted to test the participants' knowledge about electronic waste to see how informed they are about this issue.

In our survey, we had the participation of 76 respondents. Additionally, we covered a broad age spectrum, aiming for a diverse representation.

On average, each participant reported just over three unused electronic devices in their possession. Smartphones made up the majority of these, but many respondents also mentioned other types of electronic waste, such as headphones, keyboards, MP3 players, kitchen appliances, hairdryers, and more. This clearly indicates that the e-waste issue is not solely due to the frequent purchase of new smartphones. It also underscores the growing diversity of electronic devices in our lives, amplifying the e-waste challenge.

The reasons for accumulating such devices varied widely. Some participants simply forget about the valuable e-waste hidden in their drawers, while others keep a spare smartphone for emergencies. Uncertainties regarding disposal methods and emotional attachments to devices were also significant factors. Consequently, there's a demand for improved recycling measures. A notable suggestion was incentivizing recycling by offering a share in the profits from the valuable materials within devices.

Despite the accumulation of e-waste, it is unsurprising that most respondents recycle their electronic waste only once every two to three years, if at all. When asked about their knowledge of e-waste recycling locations, many left the answer blank or admitted their lack of knowledge.

Many are aware of the problem, but the barriers to changing behavior seem too daunting for many.

In our concluding e-waste quiz, participants' uncertainty about the topic became even more apparent. Many underestimated the amount of e-waste generated within the EU. This clearly underscores the need for more education. E-waste management is a significant topic that needs greater attention in our schools and beyond. While some underestimated the proportion of e-waste recycled in Germany, the actual portion is by 20%. Our survey indicates there's considerable potential for improvement, and with RareCycle we are sure to impact this problem.

Through our low-barrier hardware and biotechnology, we want to empower communities to recycle their own e-waste. Under the right safety conditions, our hardware project MycoFlux allows this to happen in community biolabs and workshops. This is already a reality for plastic recycling, as more and more plastic upcycling hubs are founded all around the world.

They act as a model for our decentralized e-waste recycling approach: Regional collectives come together and build the necessary equipment based on supplied plans (see Hardware). The material they need is cheap and easily available, e.g., recycled wood. They are supported by regional industry partners that can help in pre-processing parts of the e-waste like sorting and shredding. A global network supports each local hub by providing the GMO cultures and organizational backup.

Fig 8. | Our hardware solution MycoFlux.

We want to turn consumers in prosumers that take responsibility and pride in being a part of such important value chains as Rare-Earth elements. Communities can sell their recovered valuable resources through decentralized platforms that several startups are establishing right now. Their profits can be reinvested in local infrastructure and help promote responsible collecting and processing of old electronics.

Fig 9. | Extraction of ores in a mine. Source: Pexels

Once established, a decentralized recycling system like ours has the possibility to drastically reduce the production of primary resources, i.e., the extraction of ore, and thus minimize environmental damage that occurs in this way. The reduction of the dependency of individual states and a generally wider offer can also strengthen the market and the economy.

Lastly, through introducing solutions from synthetic biology into the lives of communities worldwide, we want to demystify GMOs and let people make practical experiences with them. By enabling them to profit from their application first hand, we want to improve the preconceptions people have about synthetic biology. During our iGEM journey we have already reached out to many people and educated them about the potential of synthetic biology as well as the prospects of becoming an active part of recycling processes. Learn more about these activities in our Human Practices!

Fig 10. | Bringing awareness to students about the potential of synthetic biology in Rare-Earth recycling.

Partnership for the Goals

We realized early on that addressing the global challenge of e-waste recycling necessitates a concerted effort from diverse stakeholders worldwide. Currently, only a few initiatives exist that aim to bring various stakeholders together to address the e-waste problem and raise awareness amongst everyone. One notable example of such initiatives is the WEEE Forum, which hosts an annual E-Waste Day. The International E-Waste Day serves as a platform for raising awareness about the e-waste issue. Last year, 194 organizations from 72 countries across six different continents registered as participants, and many more entities marked the day with activities, news reports, and online campaigns. This year, #ewasteday takes place on October 14, 2023, where we also proudly participate by conducting informational campaigns at our laboratories.

Fig 11. | International E-waste Day as a yearly awareness raising celebration initiated by the WEEE Forum.

But still most governments, NGOs, and industries are working separately to address this problem. This needs to change. We want to bring them together and collaborate to solve the e-waste problem. Numerous strategic partners that we have encountered share our vision of making e-waste recycling more sustainable. We are very happy that we can help to connect, industry leaders and academia. Together, we've not only developed a groundbreaking biotechnological recycling method but also crafted comprehensive plans on how to apply, adapt, and collectively execute our solutions at a local level, anywhere and by anyone.

Fig 12. | Institute of Process Metallurgy and Metal Recycling.

From our network, we have acquired several key insights that are vital for the success of RareCycle. For example that the global production of Rare-Earth elements is heavily dominated by monopolies, endangering fair access and resilient supply chains. Our industry is heavily dependent on the availability of Rare-Earth elements, so recycling becomes a necessary and imperative alternative to primary production, also contributing to environmental sustainability. We have worked with Dr Stopic of the Chair of Process Metallurgy and Metal Recycling of RWTH Aachen University to emphasize RareCycle's unique features and goals and have intensified our focus on the Sustainable Development Goals to highlight our desired impact on peace, prosperity, and the planet.

Furthermore, we recognized the importance of incorporating the informal sector into our recycling efforts. Our partners Epron and the E-Waste Relief Foundation in Nigeria have illustrated to us the importance of incorporating the informal e-waste recycling sector into regulated, safe and legal recycling streams. They have also told us about the huge importance of informing and including the public. We have received great feedback for our decentralized, low-barrier recycling solutions. Thankfully, our network partners also highlighted issues in our project that we have to work on, for example regarding safety protocols and making sure the technology does not fall into the wrong hands.

Fig 13. | Interview with E-Waste Relief Foundation. From upper left to lower right: Frederik, Melissa, Ragul, Babafemi Okegbenro.

Fig 14. | Interview with Central Committee on Biological Safety. From upper left to lower right: Alexandra, Melissa, Dr Anastasia Matthies, Dr Birgit Schönig.

It is imperative for us to acknowledge our limitations in specific fields and have bridged these gaps with expertise from experts like the ZKBS. We firmly believe that purely organizational or technological solutions in isolation cannot resolve the multifarious challenges in e-waste recycling. Intensive collaboration is the key, bringing all stakeholders to the table to devise practical solutions that work in everyday life. We want to enable innovation in the field of sustainable e-waste recycling by bringing people together and introducing low-barrier and modular technological solutions that people can adapt to their needs.

"Your recycling system holds significant potential, and we recognize a great opportunity for impactful implementation in Nigeria. Your strength lies in the network you are constructing, which includes recyclers and a marketplace for recycled materials. Presently, local expertise like ours becomes essential to ensure socially sustainable recycling. [..] It's advisable to consider partnerships with more organizations, such as the Red Cross, and the recycling industries within Nigeria. By creating a comprehensive network, you can generate substantial environmental and social influence throughout Nigeria." – E-Waste Relief Foundation

It was very important to us to inform ourselves about the Sustainable Development Goals itself and share our learnings with our community. Prof. Heba Aziz from Institut XY and Prof. Professor Heba Aziz from the UNESCO Chair for World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism Management in the Arab Region (GU Tech Oman) and Professor Fredrik Björk from the Faculty of Culture and Society (Malmö University) educated us on the goals and helped us to focus message and outreach. In workshops on-campus and in schools we have spread our message to students and created awareness for the huge problem of e-waste recycling in our current society.

Fig 15. | Interview with Professor Fredrik Björk. From upper left to lower right: Alexandra, Melissa, Professor Fredrik Björk.

Fig 16. | Posted on Social Media @igem.aachen to educate about the SDGs.

We are the first generation to deal with such a huge amount of technological products in our daily lives, and thus have the generational task to care for their correct disposal and recycling! We have encouraged our fellow students to join us in working towards the Sustainable Development Goals with the help of synthetic biology. We have also conducted a social media campaign to educate people about our project in direct relationship with the Sustainable Development Goals and received great feedback for it.

Fig 17. | Networking with people all around the world.

Life on Land and Climate Action

"E-waste constitutes a significant source of pollution, presenting a substratial threat to the public and even affects aspects like crop production, water quality, and animal life. These hazards remain invisible to the naked eye." – E-Waste Relief Foundation

We want to use the power of synthetic biology to combat climate change and to preserve the beauty and biodiversity of our planet's terrestrial ecosystems. RareCycle has two main columns targeting Life on Land and Climate Action.

Illegal E-Waste Shipments

“We could imagine integrating your solution into our collection centers, it gives people the opportunity to not only collect the E-waste but go on to the next step and recycle it in a green-way.” - EPRON

The first one addresses the illegal shipments of e-waste. It leads to production of unnecessary CO2 emissions and enables dangerous and improper recycling. It`s estimated that between 0.25 and 1.3 million tons of e-waste are shipped from the EU every year and a big part of it is going to West Africa. There, unsuitable recycling practices such as burning or dumping can lead to habitat destruction, disrupting the balance of ecosystems, causing loss of biodiversity and threatening the survival of various species. Not only are whole ecosystems affected but also food and water supplies are contaminated. We feel a special responsibility for this circumstance as Germany is producing the most e-waste within the EU. 9

By enabling everyone to recycle their own e-waste within their community, we want to engage people in the fight against illegal e-waste shipping. Our hardware solution MycoFlux is a simple and practical way to take part in the recycling process. A wide implementation of MycoFlux would lower CO2 emissions caused by e-waste shipping. From 2014 to 2020 the CO2 emissions caused by electronic devices and their associated e-waste rose by 53%. 10 By educating and informing people about the current situation we raise awareness of the problem of improper recycling techniques releasing dangerous chemicals to the environment, where they harm plants and animals, and poison the soil. Our recycling based on synthetic biology could be the key alternative to dangerous and unsustainable recycling practices.

Fig 18. | AI generated vision of people sorting their old electronics.

"This is a genius idea and definitely useful. This could really work to improve the recycling system and create a green circular economy." – EPRON

Fig 19. | Interview with Epron. From upper left to lower middle: Frederik, Melissa, Ibukun Faluyi.

To start a pilot project, we built a network in Nigeria, interviewing several NGOs like EPRON and E-Waste Relief Foundation concerning the e-waste problem in Nigeria and how our project can help. They gave us a detailed insight into the current situation and confirmed how valuable RareCycle could be in protecting the local environment and climate. At the moment, in Nigeria 1.1 million tons of e-waste are produced every year. Our partners at the E-Waste Relief Foundation told us, that a lot of it ends up on landfills four to five times as big as Luxembourg, which leads to soil contamination with toxins like carcinogenic metals. 11

Traditional Rare-Earth Production

The second column deals with the fact that traditional mining of rare earth elements is also connected to large emissions of CO2 besides its damaging effect on the local environment. Recycling ends these processes creating a sustainable circular economy and reducing carbon emissions due to the less needed transportation of resources. This was underlined discussing our project with Professor Stopic, an expert on Rare Earth Elements. He pointed out that 70% of waste declared as toxic is actually e-waste.

“Recycling, as opposed to primary production, offers us an environmentally friendly alternative without harming or altering the natural environment.” - EPRON

Fig 20. | Interview with Central Committee on Biological Safety. From upper left to lower right: Alexandra, Melissa, Dr Anastasia Matthies, Dr Birgit Schönig.

Making sure all necessary safety guidelines are integrated in MycoFlux we had an interview with ZKBS (The Central Committee on Biological Safety). Among other things, they informed us about the main points to consider in order to keep MycoFlux environmentally friendly. Since it's important to make sure our GMO fungi will not have any influence on wild type species, we will continue performing tests in this field. Additionally, we will have a closer look at the wood we use for MycoFlux. We will ensure that the boxes will be built out of regional and sustainable wood combating rainforest deforestation.

Sustainable Cities and Communities

It is integral to our mission to democratize e-waste recycling and to empower communities to deal with and profit from their own e-waste. This is especially important in urban areas where most of our electronic waste is produced. E-waste is also the fastest growing waste stream so municipal collection and processing facilities need to quickly adapt for sustainable and safe e-waste recycling.

The progressing technologization of our cities can be seen in our everyday lives, as we encounter more and more e-scooters, delivery robots or drones. Our solution approach supports making our cities more sustainable and resilient by involving people more intensively in the recycling chain. By providing communities with our easily reproducible biotechnology, neighborhoods and community workshops can help lift the load from their municipal waste management by executing some steps of the recycling process themselves.

Fig 21. | E-Bikes in Aachen.

We therefore contribute to the growing trend of urban mining. Through these practices, we can unlock the industrial potential that lies in our cities, creating new jobs and activities while cleaning up our immediate environment. In certain cases, urban mining of e-waste is becoming even more cost-effective than traditional mining. 12 We want to make sure that the recovery of Rare-Earth elements will be included in future urban mining developments so that these important resources become more available for sustainable technology.

Fig 22. | AI generated vision of community workshops for decentralized recycling of e-waste.

In many cities, there is already a successful approach for plastic recycling where community centers are supported by a global network to enable people to upcycle plastic waste (e.g. Precious Plastics). Thus, the groundwork for our upcycling concept for e-waste already exists in many places worldwide. While parts of our process would have to be executed in community biolabs given current regulations, collection and pre-processing steps could be easily realized within neighborhood workshops. We built our Hardware project entirely within the workshop of our university that is entirely run by students. Therefore, we can ensure that our technology can be replicated very easily within the means of community workshops.

Our experience in the community workshop was very positive and we can highly encourage everyone to get engaged in similar spaces in their cities. Sharing technology, tools and skills could be the key to enriching our lives with activities that strengthen our communities and dealing with global problems locally.

We shift the production of Rare-Earth Elements from unsustainable mining practices in selective parts of the world to urban mining in every community on earth. Therefore, local industries can rely more on the availability of these crucial resources. This could induce more local innovation in the field where Rare-Earth Elements are needed, e.g., sustainable energy production and storage.

We believe that the combination of more engaged communities, them taking care of their immediate environment and making profit to reinvest into their communal spaces offers great potential to make our cities more sustainable and resilient.

Good Health and Well-Being

"As many as 18 million children and adolescents and 12.9 million women, including an unknown number of women of childbearing age, may be at risk from adverse health outcomes linked to ewaste recycling.” - World Health Organization 12

The disposal and recycling of the vast amounts of e-waste generated can be expensive in certain regions. This has led to a significant issue of illegal e-waste shipments to countries in the Global South with weaker environmental and waste management regulations. Each year, an estimated 94,900 tonnes of e-waste valued at 95 million USD, much of which contains heavy metals and other toxins, is shipped from Europe and the United States to the Gulf of Guinea, primarily to Nigeria and Ghana. 13

Even more concerning is that upon arrival in these countries, the waste is dismantled for raw materials, often by young children working in hazardous landfills. These children are exposed to toxic fumes during the incineration of electronics. Furthermore, water pollution resulting from improper e-waste disposal poses a severe threat to drinking water sources, endangering even more adjacent communities. Unfortunately, despite the evident dangers, the importation of e-waste to countries like Nigeria and Ghana persists because it generates essential revenue for the state and offers employment and income opportunities for the impoverished and most vulnerable populations in these nations. 14 This, and often the ignorance about the negative impact on human health, leads many people to work in this sector. But we have the power to capitalize on this hazardous situation.

"There are landfills in Nigeria that are four to five times the size of Luxembourg, filled with e-waste. Additionally, millions of metric tons of new, unusable electronic products arrive in Nigeria on a daily basis." – E-Waste Relife Foundation

"In the future, recycling must be enhanced by integrating the informal sector into the formal sector, in order to establish controlled and safe recycling practices." – E-Waste Relife Foundation

These unsafe practices can be transformed into a legitimate recycling industry by MycoFlux. Our vision is to enable communities to engage in safe e-waste recycling through the implementation of sustainable, bioengineered solutions. Not only can we revolutionize the recycling of e-waste entirely, but our technology can also improve living conditions for affected communities. Working in the e-waste recycling sector in countries like Nigeria doesn`t have to mean anymore that you will suffer health issues. It's our vision to contribute to the well-being of thousands of people working in the sector or living in regions where e-waste recycling is practiced. Since we are working with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) as well as metals, there are still safety measures to be taken into account. We had a look through that to make sure that MycoFlux is safe for everyone coming in touch with it. To learn more about our safety considerations, check out our interview with ZBKS (Central Committee on Biological Safety).

Overall, the preservation and improvement of people's health are of great importance to us, and we contribute to this by facilitating the recycling of E-Waste in our project. Recycling not only protects against potential harmful environmental impacts but also promotes the vision of comprehensive well-being by helping people live in a healthier and safer environment.

  1. V. Forti (2020)
    Global electronic waste up 21% in five years, and recycling isn’t keeping up
    The Conversation, retrieved on 10.10.2023
  2. I. Tiseo (2019)
    Share of electronic waste documented to be collected and properly recycled worldwide in 2019, by region
  3. J.-C. P. Gabriel (2020)
    New technologies to recycle electronic waste
    The Conversation, retrieved on 10.10.2023
  4. T. S. Lebbie, O. D. Moyebi, K. A. Asante, J. Fobil, M. N. Brune-Drisse, W. A. Suk, P. D. Sly, J. Gorman, D. O. Carpenter (2021)
    E-Waste in Africa: A Serious Threat to the Health of Children
    Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 18(16), 8488
  5. V. Forti, C. P. Baldé, R. Kuehr, G. Bel (2020)
    The Global E-waste Monitor 2020: Quantities, flows and the circular economy potential
    United Nations University (UNU)/UnitedNations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) – co-hosted SCYCLE Programme,International Telecommunication Union (ITU) & International Solid Waste Association(ISWA)
  6. G. Bel, C. van Brunschot, N. Easen, V. Gray, R. kuehr, A. Milios, I. Mylvakanam, J. Pennington (2019)
    A New Circular Vision for Electronics, Time for a Global Reboot
    World Economic Forum, retrieved on 10.10.2023
  7. U.S. Geological Survey (2022)
    Mineral Commodity Summaries 2022
    U.S. Geological Survey
  8. J. Kaiman (2014)
    Rare earth mining in China: the bleak social and environmental costs
    The Guardian, retrieved on 10.10.2023
  9. J. Vidal (2013)
    Toxic E-Waste Dumped in Poor Nations, Says United Nations
    Our World, United Nations University, retrieved on 10.10.2023
  10. B. Aldrich (2022)
    Emissions from e-waste spiked 53% in 6 years
    Route Fifty, retrieved on 10.10.2023
  11. K. Okorie (2022)
    Nigeria: E-waste never dies, but can be upcycled
    Mail&Guardian, retrieved on 10.10.2023
  12. X. Zeng, J. A. Mathews, J. Li (2018)
    Urban Mining of E-Waste is Becoming More Cost-Effective Than Virgin Mining
    Environ. Sci. Technol. 52, 8, 4835–4841
  13. World Health Organization (2021)
    Children and digital dumpsites: e-waste exposure and child health
    World Health Organization, retrieved on 10.10.2023
  14. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2009)
    Transnational Trafficking and the Rule of Law in West Africa: A Threat Assessment
    United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, retrieved on 10.10.2023