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EDF, EMC Discover Innovative E-Waste Tracking Systems

A code printed on electronic subsystem components using passive radio-frequency identification (RFID) ink is one of the winners of Eco-Challenge, a crowdsourced competition hosted by InnoCentive Inc for IT company EMC Corporation and the Environmental Defense Fund, aimed at finding solutions for tracking shipments of used electronic components and subsystems and ensuring that they are disposed of responsibly.

The unique 12-digit code would be printed directly onto each subsystem component using the RFID ink. The idea was submitted by Sumit Bhardwaj, a digital marketer in London.

The Eco-Challenge asked participants to help develop a scalable process or device that would allow organizations that produce electronic devices to follow the flow of discarded items – such as computers, office electronic equipment, entertainment devices, mobile phones and television sets – from the location of their use through the waste stream to final disposal. Over a three-month period, the Eco-Challenge attracted nearly 800 “solvers,” and more than 60 solutions were submitted. Three solutions were selected as winners and their creators split a $10,000 prize. The two other winning solutions were:
  • The use of an electronic identification “bee”, or e-Bee, that combines electronic identification codes printed on components with an online crowdsourcing platform, together yielding a holistic picture of where electronic components end up; and
  • A tracking system that leverages a sheet of labels printed with unique, encrypted codes for each major component in the system. Similar to those used in the fresh food industry, the labels would be applied to and follow subsystem components as they move through the disposal process.
EMC plans to host brainstorming sessions with the winning contestants to explore the similarities and concepts that exist within all their ideas, outline a potential proof-of-concept and ideally partner with them to move forward in developing a product. The ultimate goal is to develop new solutions to improve e-waste tracking industry-wide. EMC intends to share the winning ideas with its peers in the industry to help accelerate the adoption of more environmentally sustainable and innovative e-waste practices.
In March, Unilever’s Open Innovation team launched an online platform seeking help on a range of sustainability issues such as better packaging and natural food preservation. Projects are listed on the Unilever web site as a series of “wants.” The company said that it launched the web site looking for a “fresh, serious” approach to developing new technology.
A month later, Heineken launched an online open innovation platform seeking ideas to help green up its products. The first challenge set by the company’s Ideas Brewery was for innovators to submit their ideas for sustainable beer packaging.
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