Now comes the hard part

In the world of processing e-waste, there are some parts that are easier than others.

Joyfully taking out your frustrations on the glass of a broken monitor to reduce it to dust could be construed as an easy job. Provided you wear protective clothing and duck should shards head your way.

Taking apart a beautiful old machine or expensive server is heartbreaking.

Working through 30 identical screens in a row is exhausting.

And now and then one aspect ends up downright shocking.

My partner usually deals with the metal disposal aspect of this endeavour on my behalf - sometimes a male presence in a male-dominated world is a lot more effective. But I recently joined him on a trip to the scrapyard to take steel for recycling.

Perhaps I'm too soft-hearted - maybe I simply "humanize" the machines that cross my workbench each day. What I do know is that I treat those I dismantle with respect and a healthy dose of reverence. I don't break it if I don't have to - bar those stress-relieving screens of course... :-)

But the trip to the metal guys shook me. There it's all just scrap, discards, junk, things to throw on a pile of other things. The carefully packed goods we bring are dumped unceremoniously into a corner or out on the ground. I know it's destined for a smelter eventually, that it will be ground up and re-used for other items, but sometimes it's hard to see just how casually this beautifully crafted technology at end-of-life is treated.

I guess that's the emotionally-draining flip side of "doing good deeds" and saving it from a landfill.


I was sitting looking at my hands a few days ago.

I used to have beautiful hands - soft, long-fingered, perfectly manicured nails, though they occasionally got dirty in gardening and engines.

Now my hands are well-used. Processing e-waste isn't a clean job. You end up filthy, blackened by soot and grime and dust. Sharp metal, plastic, glass can cut into skin. Tools slip - and leave their mark. Nails break. Your fingerprints end up permanently defined in black and grey on your fingertips - no matter how much you scrub. You're likly to have an assortment of plasters at various angles over hands and wrists. You have callouses and blisters and pinched bits - the skin may be dried out and rough, not as sensitive as it used to be.

But these hands are hard-working hands. They've done a lot. They know how to work carefully and delicately, or take a bit of force to something that needs it. They're not simply attachments to the end of my arms. They're useful parts of me. They fit into the cycle of electronic life and death I assist in - they resurrect or forever destroy.

Yup, may not be able to show them off nor want to attract attention to them with snazzy nailpolish (which will simply be eaten off at the next session). But I'm kinda pround of what they've done, what they're doing - what they still will do.

In the Still of the Night

Some days e-waste processing slows to a trickle and the workspace stands clear of equipment. Other days you simply can't keep up, and end up tripping over piles of stuff while more flows in the door! There are complicated things that take ages to dismantle instead of the simple "everything the same" items. Bolts and screws that refuse to budge, things you can't seem to decipher as to how they work.

And it's on the busy days that you might find yourself burning the midnight (and beyond) oil - trying to diminish the load of goods awaiting your attention before the next lot arrives.

Although getting to bed at 4 day after day can knock you for a six, I sometimes find those late night, early morning hours are my most productive. It's quiet - the rest of the world slumbers peacefully (oh how sometimes I'd love to join them!). There's no ringing phones or work-hour deadlines during which to contact people or be contacted. There's no need for coffee breaks or meal breaks - I can pace myself with the rhythm I work well at, budget my time and tasks and move smoothly from one to another.

If it's a really late one, I can tell the time by the passing train (2am - freight train inbound). I hear owls outside and the occasional startled guinea-fowl - all noises that get lost in the daily traffic and bustle of a working environment.

Yes, sometimes your movements become automatic - one screw after another, one panel after another, pile up like items and tackle them without really noticing what you're doing, keep eyes open (don't even blink or you'll fall asleep standing). But it's also the perfect time to think, to plan, to ponder: a bit of me-time under the late-burning lights.

Even if it sometimes exhausts me, I don't mind working late. It's a lot less of a chore than it seems, with benefits well worth the effort.