Somewhere in Kingston in south-east Queensland, a small social enterprise is making huge waves in sustainability and within the surrounding community. Substation33 comprises a small team of incredibly dedicated people who have banded together to deliver a novel recycling and education social enterprise that is solving some our region’s greatest waste issues – that of electronic waste, or e-waste.
Tony, Simon and Tariq (pictured) are the brains behind the program, having met some years ago at the Logan Eco-Action Festival (LEAF), organised annually by the Logan City Council. The key aim behind their collaboration was to develop a hub for young people to collect, sort, grade and create new items from old, while at the same time build their independence, respect and participation in positive community initiatives.
Australia is one of the highest producers of e-waste (electronic waste such as computers, hard-drives, keyboards, monitors etc.) in the world! In Logan city alone, Substation33 receives over 125,000 kg of electronic waste each year. Much of this is re-usable either in part or wholly, provided the time is available to break it down and re-develop it. A team of young people including those challenged with disabilities, homelessness, disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds or long-term unemployment, work together to break down e-waste items by hand, and to come up with ideas of what they can then be made into. This allows them to gain paid employment or to volunteer and gain skills and qualifications in fields like IT, customer relations and workplace health and safety, thus improving their future employment prospects. This kind of kinaesthetic learning process (learning by doing) is also a powerful tool that enables many people to learn more effectively than when they are faced with the more traditional theoretical and auditory learning approaches.
E-waste items are broken down into 25 grades of materials by a rotating crew of workers and volunteers of up to 400 each year. The materials are then used to create novel products which can be either directly sold, adding capital back into the project, or used as education tools (providing free-access design blue-prints that can be used to help other groups, schools and communities design and create recycled products to sell). For example, explosives boxes have been craftily turned into mobile speaker units, laptop batteries are reefed together to form Smart Car battery-packs and most exciting of all 3D printers.
In fact Substation33 create new 3D printers,
made from old 3D printers,
that are printing even more new 3D printers!
The 3D printer phenomenon has hit Australia hard enabling the general public to create household items, replacement parts and indeed, whole products, from a relatively simple printing mechanism. Termed, additive manufacturing, Substation33 have designed a 3D printer blueprint that uses an Arduino robot control system to run the printer, a CAD design in Sketchup (open-source software) to command the robot, and a simple list of mechanical parts to make the machine function. Essentially, around 500 kg of plastic comes in from e-waste to Substation33 every day. At a rate of 80 kg per hour, people and shredders break down the plastic parts into beads which are then melted and fed into a plastic filament coil (this is the “ink” of 3D printers and is usually made from ABS, PS or PCABS plastics). The filament maker can create 2 kg of filament coil a day which is then used by the 3D printers. The most exciting part is that the 3D printers now are able to make all their own parts so that a brand new 3D printer can be born from another, with many now being sold to schools and community groups through STEM partnerships at a minimal construction cost of just $65!
Outside of the headquarters, a team of volunteers, youth workers, school students, youth justice work crew and more are working on collecting all the e-waste that is turned into these exciting and novel products. With 2 vehicles and over 100 e-waste bins placed around the local area at schools and community centres, Substation33 is spreading its catchment of where it can source the materials. With such a diverse team of people, the flow of ideas is as strong as the flow of materials and soon the group plan on designing their very own recycled drones too! Tony, the social enterprises’ development manager and a spokesman for Logan YFS, even has ideas of working with other local social enterprises to develop interactive tourism opportunities using app technology, as well as employing local Indigenous groups to open up little-known parts of Logan City’s environment to the public.
In the future, Substation33 are aiming to breach the higher end of the e-waste market, by being allowed to install their bins across more and more industries to increase the collation and re-use of items that would otherwise end up as landfill. Office blocks, service industries, residential developments and public buildings throughout south-east Queensland will be targeted in an attempt to recycle more items, increase job opportunities for unemployed and disadvantaged people and reduce the impacts of e-waste pollution on the environment. Last year alone, over 98% of all items Substation33 collected from the Logan catchment were recycled into something brand new – from plastic mascots to computer screens, they’ve managed it all.
If you are inspired by the work of Substation33 and want to know more, follow them on their Facebook page or YouTube channel which regularly host useful posts teaching you how to develop your own products from everyday household e-waste. The group also welcome visits from other like-minded groups to their Kingston headquarters and are organising upcoming events such as the Logan Social Enterprise Expo at the Logan Entertainment Centre in November.
We here at Natura Pacific were extremely inspired by our visit and would like to sincerely thank the Substation33 team for the time they took to show us around and explain the workings of their incredible enterprise – we most definitely will be looking for any opportunity to assist, support or collaborate with them into the future!