Mining Landfills

A Climate Change Story

‘Mining Landfills’ explores the relationship we have with our mobile phones. There is a growing ‘throwaway culture’ that has resulted in an increasing number of valuable materials gathering in landfills. With a focus on Joe Rush’s Mount Recylemore, a sculpture made entirely of old electrical devices, that popped up on a beach near my hometown in the summer of 2021. This story looks at the roots of the electronic waste issue and poses the question: what does the future hold for this problem?

The title, ‘Mining Landfills’ was taken from an interview with the artist Joe Rush. When asked what he thought the future holds for e-waste, he replied ‘…we are going to get to the point where we are going to have to start mining the landfills.’ This felt like an appropriate reflection of the e-waste issue, in that, in a negative sense, we are continuously throwing valuable materials away but there is hope that the future holds a means of re-using these ‘waste’ materials.

My hope is that you will feel that you can reflect on your potential contribution to e-waste through:

  • placing you in our ordinary world where our phones immerse us, we are continuously holding them and getting notified by them
  • deconstructing what actually ‘makes’ a phone
  • highlighting the extremity of the issue and the dangers of continuing to add to this growing problem

The intent behind this image was an aim to reflect how much time we, as a society, spend on our phones. They are so incorporated into our everyday and we can become absorbed by them. This image displays two friends sitting and spending time together but all the time staring into their phones.

‘The Phone Graveyard’ portrays the drawer in one family’s home where all the old phones have been neglected, a common theme within many homes. The message of the photograph is hopefully one that resonates with you, that there is an underlying lack of knowledge of how to properly recycle and dispose of these items. Instead, we keep or accidentally hoard them.

A single phone lies next to all the elements that combine to create it. There is a battery, screen, charging port, camera, back of the screen, logic board, sim card tray, battery cover, chassis with audio cable, microphone, and speaker. To show the mess that lies beneath the shiny and sleek covering.

The shells, or the ‘skeletons’, of around just 20 phones. The message I intended to portray with this image, is that it is easy to view a phone as a fully formed item and forget all the expensive materials that go into creating it. These expensive materials are then wasted when a phone is no longer used or discarded.

This pile of scrap metals and plastics was taken from only around 20 old phones from a phone repair shop. The intention of this image is to represent the mass of waste created from just a small amount of unfixable or neglected electronic devices: a fragment of the larger issue of electronic waste.

Joe Rush created a series of sculptures of political leaders, made entirely from electronic waste. I focused on this sculpture in particular as all the ‘hair’ has been created from phone parts. The size of the sculpture I found to be reflective of the volume of the e-waste situation. There is an ever-growing issue with e-waste and no matter how much we highlight it, or literally plaster it onto politicians’ faces, not enough is being done about it.