Technology from the Mines to e-Waste

This is the report from OOO₃FFDEM Saturday’s Work Group on e-Waste.
The group was proposed and animated by @Raaf from Unbinare

Decolonizing our Minds

We were eight people in the Cheikh Anta Diop room discussing means to collaborate with the informal sector in Ghana. Ghana is an important destination for electronic waste (e-waste). As anywhere else, there is a booming economic sector related to the Internet. But there is also a huge informal sector taking care of electronic waste from the “Global North” – AKA Europe and other dominant capitalist countries. This is the latter sector that interests us.

A key principle to Unbinare approach is not to think of e-waste in colonial terms. If there is a hardware issue there, we probably have the same issue here in Europe. So the first point is to assume we’re experiencing the same technical issues. We also want to start from personal experiences, because they force to solve concrete problems, and then we can expand to more global issues.

For example, some devices come with illegal (in Europe) features: such as an open WiFi allowing anyone to connect to the device, but that requires a proprietary service account to disable this feature – allowing the device owner to actually control access to the device. Such proprietary software bound devices, as they are discarded, become e-waste that is not usable as such. Therefore, learning how to bypass these software limitations can turn garbage into fully reusable devices. (Note to @vecna: is this an aspect of law enforcement you would be interested in pursuing?)

We discussed the case of an upcoming animation school in Congo. They need computers capable of graphic-intensive work. Can we source such computers in Europe and ship them there? Maybe find local capacity to avoid transcontinental shipping and provide local means to recycle the devices. For example there is a recycler in Ghana that already provides local schools with GNU/Linux laptops upcycled from our e-waste.

« Blown caps[1]: the first thing that fails, right? »

There are many ways to approach hardware hacking, depending on your local context. « It’s not hard to start hacking devices » once you know what to look for (e.g., test pads, Rx/Tx pins…) – an afternoon is enough to learn the basics! (see 2.Dh5 workshop below) How can we make this happen more easily?

One approach that we want to avoid is the repair experts – instead we prefer a DIY approach that is empowering. (Apart: when working with kids, hacking is perceived as empowering, so they listen carefully.)

Tool tip: TS100 Soldering Iron is a great tool.


Network Building

Our group is willing to work on network building for hardware hacking – with a focus on reusing and upcycling e-waste. E.g., it would be interesting to repair stuff in the public space at street markets to involve curious people not necessarily knowledgeable about hardware hacking.

Hardware Hacking Toolset

We’re interested in completing a toolset to reverse-engineer common hardware, such as DED BUG ; a set of simple PCB tools to make composable hardware.

Upcoming Events



  • iFixIt wiki helps to know how to open devices
  • Chinese forums share information about recent hardware schematics
  • Bunny Huang knows it all!
  • Lookup: ways to degoogling Android devices
  • Lookup: hardware hacking communities for retro-tech
  • Recupel have ‘repair vans’ in Flanders
  • OSHW and are your friends

« All of a sudden, you’re done! »

  1. caps: short for capacitor ↩︎

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I’m grateful for everyone who came to join and contribute to the Workgroup! The Whole truly became greater than the sum of its parts. For those of you who weren’t there, Unbinare is an anarchist e-waste reverse engineering lab based in Antwerp. We build hardware hacking and reverse engineering tools and collaborate with the informal sector in the global south. We are actively looking for collaborators from a diverse range of backgrounds to tackle the global rise of e-waste. DEDBUG, a toolkit we are working on for freeform, point-to-point circuit construction will be released soon. We believe that the devices that end up in e-waste streams are not objects but environmental events. If you have the time, please find the paper An Ontology of Electronic Waste at the anarchist library, which goes more in depth about this subject. Let’s stay in touch and hopefully see you all again soon!


@raaf, the original post is now a wiki. Sorry for the delay

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It’s fine, but odd I could not access or read your notes on Saturday or Sunday when I wanted to submit my own notes and when it was relevant to others to read it. I submitted the text An Ontology of Electronic Waste when I proposed the workgroup but that post was deleted without adding it to the bibliography. What was also strange is that particular projects internal to Unbinare that I shared were presented as group efforts that came out of the workgroup.

I wrote this report from the notes I took on paper during the session, just after it. So that is probably why you did not see them before.

Note that only the first post appears on the public page. So you should rather edit the wiki than responding to it.

I know nothing about deleted posts.

Thank you for the suggestion.

It is a story that fully justifies reverse engineering, but I personally have no idea how this can be used for litigation. at least, now with a theory. but if there is a device that due to a software restriction causes the increase of junk, it is a story to be told, documented, and claimed… but you need a practical case and a very specific device as a target.

Also, I have heard that this kind of legal constraint is applied in the United States, but I have never heard this kind of activity become a legal problem in Europe.

The main problem is normally the difficulty of replicating the reversing, or maybe it is a problem I feel because I have less need than an e-waste recycler in Ghana.

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