PopTech Blog

Ecomaterials Lab: EcoATM makes recycling used gadgets easier

PopTech's weekly Ecomaterials Labs series is part of our ongoing, focused look at next-generation sustainable materials innovation.

E-waste is a huge problem. More than 80% of the 2.25 million pounds of electronics discarded every year in the U.S. end up in landfills. Filled with toxic waste - arsenic, cadmium, mercury – these items poison the ground and can easily contaminate water supplies. Add to this the economic and human costs of mining rare earth metals such as coltan, often referred to as 'blood minerals' because of the conflict zones from which they come; AND the vicious cycle of buy-discard-upgrade that is the hallmark of our gadget-obsessed culture and you have an extraordinary environmental problem.

The EcoATM is definitely a step in the right direction. Simply insert your old phone (or other device) and the EcoATM erases its memory, assigns a value to the item, and spits out a reward in the form of coupons, gift certificates, cash, etc. The company also takes care of all collection and recycling, including complete compliance with all e-waste laws. A step in the right direction, EcoATM bows to the notion that consumers will do the right thing if it’s convenient enough. And now that the company has new financing from Coinstar and the National Science Foundation, there's hope that we'll see EcoATMs popping up across the country.

A YouTube orchestra at your fingertips

Melodic, transfixing and just plain fun, In Bb 2.0 embedded 20 YouTube videos of musicians singing or playing an instrument onto one page. Play as many videos at whatever volume you like for a beautiful cacophony of sound.

In Bb 2.0 is a collaborative music and spoken word project conceived by Darren Solomon from Science for Girls, and developed with contributions from users.

The videos can be played simultaneously — the soundtracks will work together, and the mix can be adjusted with the individual volume sliders.

Image: In Bb 2.0

Ecomaterials Lab: Mapping our way out of a mess

PopTech's weekly Ecomaterials Labs series is part of our ongoing, focused look at next-generation sustainable materials innovation.

As a society, we use too much…stuff. Stuff that is manufactured in increasingly dangerous ways. When we’re done with these (mostly) unneeded and toxic items, we throw them in landfills or they end up in our oceans. Not exactly a news flash, but still worth repeating. Like energy and climate change, the issue of materials sustainability is real and immediate. In 2010, PopTech initiated the Ecomaterials Innovation Lab, an all-star network of stakeholders focused on ways to bring next-generation sustainable materials innovation to scale. Below are some of our findings from the first meeting of the Lab last July (read the full report in "PDF form) as well as recommendations for how we might go forward toward a brighter materials future:

  • There’s a surprising lack of consensus about how to ‘get there’ – including where ‘there’ is. Unlike, say, the '350' goal: among climate change advocates (stabilizing carbon dioxide at 350 parts per million in the atmosphere), there is no equivalent “grand vision” for materials sustainability. There are no agreed upon definitions for the most basic terms (see “eco” and “green.”) A huge part of the problem is that success, like the terms used to describe it, is in the eye of the beholder.

This week in PopTech: Fellows Friday

Ory Okolloh

There’s always something brewing in the PopTech community. From the world-changing people, projects and ideas in our network, a handful of this week’s highlights follows.

  • Kiwanja.net founder, Ken Banks (Social Innovation Fellow 2008) is rethinking social entrepreneurship with the rise of the “reluctant innovator.” Banks works to empower local, national and international non-profit organizations to make better use of information and communications technology in their work.

If you’d like to receive a stream of these updates (and more) throughout the week in real time, follow us on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the PopTech blog.

Image: Fast Company

Our Christmas with Glenn Beck

Taylor Stuckert and Mark Rembert, 2009 Social Innovation Fellows, founded Energize Clinton County (ECC) in an attempt to save their hometown, Wilmington, Ohio, from economic ruin. Wilmington was home to the largest DHL hub in the world until it closed operations there in 2008, resulting in the loss of 7,000 jobs in a town of 12,000 people. Inspired by Obama, they both quit their jobs in the Peace Corps in 2008 and returned home to devote their lives to revitalizing the city they love.

Last year, Glenn Beck discovered Wilmington and decided he was going to help. On December 15, 2010, Beck hosted his show live from Wilmington where he proceeded to glamorize the town (“It’s a Wonderful Life” was a recurring theme). Stuckert and Rembert met Beck, and Beck decided he liked them in spite of their left leaning political views. He has since made Wilmington a regular talking point on his show and featured Wilmington again on January 21, 2011.

Stuckert and Rembert were recently in New York to meet with Beck. Despite their skepticism (he has promised never to politicize Wilmington again), he continues to remain committed to helping the town and the ECC initiative. Beck’s commitment is a double-edged sword; he’s an incredibly divisive public figure but also the only nationally recognized one to make a long-term commitment to their project. And apparently, Beck’s fans have made Wilmington a must-see destination so the town is actually benefiting financially from this attention.

We asked Stuckert and Rembert to share their thoughts on PopTech’s blog about Beck’s dedication to their work and their hometown.

By Taylor Stuckert and Mark Rembert

Last fall, Glenn Beck was arguably at an all-time high for coverage on blogs, websites, talk shows, and in newspapers. He was a focal point of controversy and his bursts of emotion and contentious zingers were a constant centerpiece on the Daily Show with John Stewart. So we definitely had mixed feelings when we heard the rumor that Glenn Beck was coming to Wilmington to do an event at the Historic Murphy Theatre.

Glenn Beck promised to us, though, that he would not make this a political event. His desire was to share the story of our community’s resilience, innovativeness, and leadership. He said that he saw our community as an inspiration and a model for the rest of the country. How could we disagree with his view of our community? Our work is premised on that view—that many of the solutions to the country’s most pressing challenges are rooted in local communities.


PopTech interview: Gabor Forgacs on the reality of 3D organ printing

Dr. Gabor Forgacs has taken three dimensional printing to the next level. We’re not talking printing a chair or an architectural prototype but human organs – printing blood vessels, mini livers and nerve grafts cell by cell. Organ printing is one of the latest technologies within the tissue engineering discipline and Forgacs is at the forefront. PopTech spoke with the theoretical physicist turned biophysicist to get a sense of what’s currently possible in the realm of regenerating human cells and tissue, where he envisions the field is headed, and what the long-term implications could be.

PopTech: At the crux of this innovation and beyond just sounding cool, what is the need for 3D organ printing?
Gabor Forgacs: There are 70,000 people right now just in the U.S. waiting for a replacement kidney. There are 5,000 people waiting for a heart. There are people waiting for a liver transplant. And before a suitable donor is found, many of them will be dead. So there is a critical shortage of replacement organs and this interdisciplinary science, this discipline – tissue engineering – works with physicists, medical doctors, biologists, engineers to produce replacement tissue and eventually organs that will help to regenerate the body or to recover body functions that have been lost.

What are the basic elements needed to get the printer to produce blood vessels and tissue?
For ordinary printing [using a desktop printer], you need some ink, a cartridge, paper and a printer. For this, you need the bio-ink, the bio-paper and the bio-printer. The bio-ink, or cell aggregates with composition appropriate for a particular organ, is delivered using a bio-printer in a bio-friendly environment appropriate for the organ and within bio-compatible scaffolding gels that serve as the paper to form 3D tissue constructs.

Dan Ariely on adaptation to pain, attraction and work

Dan Ariely just sent us one of his signature videos as an addendum to the concept of adaptation he’d introduced during his PopTech talk this past October. Ariely had spoken candidly about adaptation to pain from his own experience and how severe injuries increase one’s pain threshold. He also shared results from studies he conducted on social adaptation as it relates to assortative mating, or, to put it bluntly, figuring out who’s within someone’s league and who isn’t when it comes to meeting a significant other.

Adaptation comes in another form – professional adaptation. Ariely anecdotally explained that he made a number of small decisions, which led him on his current career path, including clumsily killing a slew of lab rats before he realized that his hands weren’t cut out for physiology. Adaptation is the process by which we maneuver around an environment to figure out what works best for us, he concluded.

If you’re a Dan Ariely fan like we are, why not consider checking out his SXSW panel on Tuesday, March 15 with Sarah Szalavitz, Flexible Morality of User Engagement & User Behavior, or participating in a 15 minute experiment in which the results will be showcased during the panel?

Steven Pinker on language as a window into human nature

In this video from RSAnimate, psychologist, cognitive scientist and linguist Steven Pinker (PopTech 2007) explains how the mind turns the finite building blocks of language into infinite meanings.

Amidst the current tumult in the Middle East, his thoughts on facilitating political revolutions are particularly relevant.

Why are political revolutions often triggered when a crowd gathers in a public square to challenge the president in his palace? It’s because when people were at home, everyone knew they loathed the dictator but no one knew that other people knew that they knew. Once you assemble in a place where everyone can see everyone else, everyone knows that everyone else knows that everyone else knows that the dictator is loathed and that gives them the collective power to challenge the authority of the dictator who otherwise could pick off dissenters one at a time.

Wired for change: Internet access in the pursuit of justice

The Wired for Change event that took place this past Wednesday at the Ford Foundation was a jam-packed day filled with heavy hitters ranging from Bill Clinton, who made a surprise appearance to Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web as well as Arianna Huffington, John Maeda, and Damian Kulash amongst others. Coming on the heels of Hillary Clinton’s February 15 speech about Internet freedom, the conference’s focus was to engage in a dialogue about digital rights and the role of technology to facilitate innovation and positive change.

“Will technology’s arc bend toward justice?” Luis Ubinas, Ford Foundation’s President, asked to kick off the day. In a panel moderated by co-founder of BlackPlanet.com Omar Wasow, NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous, former ZipCar CEO Robin Chase, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and Witness Executive Director Yvette Alberdingk Thijm responded, discussing access to broadband as a basic human right and a ripe opportunity to affect social change. How does access to the Internet funnel directly into innovation (crisis mapping and car sharing platforms) as well as activism (the role of social media in Egypt and Tunisia). The conversation also touched upon net neutrality and the digital divide in our own backyard.

Salient points were made by each panelist:

  • Tim Berners-Lee: “The Internet should be neutral” without policing from government or corporations. “I am generally optimistic about the Internet but whenever things get decentralized in any way, then you have a problem.”
  • Yvette Alberdingk Thijm: “Just providing the tools isn’t enough.” Access to technology is important for advocacy, but even more important is providing the skills people need to use the tools most effectively. People also need to be trained to use the tools safely so that they won’t implicate themselves or others.
  • Ben Jealous: We need to adopt platforms that are being used successfully outside the U.S., like Ushahidi, inside the U.S. “The Internet is the town square” and it’s all about who is in the square. Hopefully those in the square will bend technology’s arc toward justice.
  • Robin Chase: “After I fed and clothed a person, I’d give them the Internet…Innovators need free or low cost tools to show their cool new stuff.” With the technology she had available, Chase didn’t have to compete with GM or Ford when she started ZipCar.

This week in PopTech: Big stories, big news

Bantjes Valentines

There’s always something brewing in the PopTech community. From the world-changing people, projects and ideas in our network, a handful of this week’s highlights follows.

  • The unveiling of annual valentines from renowned typographer Marian Bantjes (PopTech 2008) is always a treat. This year is no exception.
  • Reihan Salam (PopTech 2009) has a new gig writing about politics at The Daily, a recently launched tablet-native national news brand published exclusively on the iPad.
  • Josh Nesbit (Social Innovation Fellow 2009) was featured as part of ABC News’ “Be the Change: Save a Life” initiative, a year-long series of broadcast and digital coverage focusing on global health issues. Nesbit co-founded FrontlineSMS:Medic and HopePhones to bring the innovative use of mobile phones for healthcare to the developing world. We also spotted Ken Banks (Social Innovation Fellow 2008), and the artwork of Chris Jordan (PopTech 2007, 2009).
  • Finally, congratulations to PopTech board member John Legend (PopTech 2007, 2010) on 3 Grammy wins last Sunday!

If you’d like to receive a stream of these updates (and more) throughout the week in real time, follow us on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, sign up for our newsletter, and subscribe to the PopTech blog.

Image: Marian Bantjes