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Big ideas and recycled metals

I’m speaking at Idea Festival in Louisville, Kentucky in mid-September. I was on a panel at Idea Festival last year and had a great time, enjoying a “big ideas” conference that’s designed to be open to as wide an audience as possible. As much as I love TED and Pop!Tech, those conferences have high pricetags which tend to shape their audiences. (Both conferences have taken steps to diversify their attendees, offering scholarships and other ways to participate virtually.) Idea Festival offers many of its events for free, expenses covered by sponsors, and makes others accessible on a ticket-per-event basis. There’s a great crop of speakers this year, including people I’ve wanted to meet for a long time and old friends who are very much worth listening to.

There’s an interesting opportunity for you to attend the festival, if you’d like. Geek Squad, one of the event’s main sponsors, is sponsoring an ideas contest. Offer your best ideas for conserving power, recycling e-waste and bridging digital divides, and Geek Squad will ship the best thinkers out to the festival. (Unfortunately, the contest is US only, which is disappointing to many of the folks reading this blog. Sorry about that.)

I wonder if there isn’t an interesting way to connect the current rise of metals theft in some corners of the US with an answer to the e-waste question. Global copper prices have gotten so high that there’s been a rash of thefts of copper drainspouts in wealthy Virginia neighborhoods. (When I used to make art from recycled materials back in my college days, my fellow junkyard hounds called these thieves “copper bugs”. They’d cut the cords off used, but fixable, discarded appliances, making them useless for the few cents worth of copper they’d pull out of the cord.)

Many e-Waste companies focus primarily on keeping toxic materials within computers and mobile phones from contaminating groundwater; smarter ones, like African Sky, a South African e-waste recycler founded by rock star Johnny Clegg, focus on pulling recoverable materials from the machines, especially metals, leaving a minimum of discarded waste. With platinum so valuable that thieves are stealing catalytic converters, maybe Clegg and crew are working on an idea that deserves to be implemented on a much larger scale.

1 thought on “Big ideas and recycled metals”

  1. I’m thinking about coming to the Idea Festival this year, so I’ll have to buy you a beer sometime. I’d love to go to Poptech, but I can’t justify the cost (but at least I can get the DVDs every year anyway).

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