Yogi Hendlin in Nautilus:
Eric Lundgren, the 33-year-old, fedora-wearing CEO of a major electronic waste recycling plant in Los Angeles, could be called both the Elon Musk and the Edward Snowden of e-waste. Elon Musk because in 2017 he built an electric car out of recycled batteries that broke the world record for electric vehicle range. Edward Snowden because he’s currently serving a prison sentence for copyright infringement, as a result of printing 28,000 Windows restore disks to be distributed with repaired computers. Lundgren’s court case and electronic creations have made him an icon for the Right to Repair Movement and e-waste reuse.
An unexpected outcome of his sentencing is a boosted interest in the psychology and economics of electronic waste. Taking advantage of the media spotlight, Lundgren has raised awareness of unrepairable products and environmentally destructive planned obsolescence. Each year, 99 billion pounds of e-waste is generated worldwide, according to the United Nations—that’s the equivalent of nearly 4,500 Eifel Towers. Regulations have done little to stem the tide. Even accounting for the thousands of independent e-recyclers in the United States, Lundgren estimates that the percentage of the e-waste stream diverted from landfills barely scrapes the double-digits.
I interviewed Lundgren days before he began his 13-month prison sentence. Microsoft claims that Lundgren profited off the disks he printed, while Lundgren maintains that they were worthless without validation codes. I was interested less in the details of his case, and more about the science and social questions surrounding electronic waste, and how Eric Lundgren manages to create value from trash.
Give me an example of how you re-use e-waste.
I got a bunch of Canadian solar panels that were damaged in storms, cut out the working parts, and assembled enough that they now cover the roof of my 65,000-square-foot building in Los Angeles. We get free power from this fusion reactor we call the sun, and store it in hybrid car battery packs from totaled cars. We use this free power to run a blockchain mining station that creates currency that is exchanged for the U.S. dollars that pay my employees. So, today I can proudly say that every single employee in my company is paid for by the sun through utilizing recycled garbage.