Alex Lin (Courtesy of Alex Lin)
Living on Earth interviews Alex Lin, who won the Brower Youth Award for his pioneering work on electronic waste. Lin recycled and refurbishes computers for kids in the U.S. and around the world.
CURWOOD: One kid who needs no New Year’s resolutions on the environment is 14-year-old Alex Lin. When he was 11 he came across a newspaper article about the massive piles of E-waste—that’s waste from electronics and computers that’s generated around the world.
When the electronic devices we use every day get taken apart or dumped, toxic substances, like lead, leech into the environment. Alex decided to attack E-waste, starting at home. He founded WIN – Westerly Innovations Network (named after his town of Westerly, Rhode Island).
LIN: Thanks a lot.
CURWOOD: So one day you’re reading the newspaper. You see this article about E-waste and you decide to do something about it. What was it that grabbed you? What made you decide to make this your mission?
LIN: I think what helped me choose to do this was that it’s such a little known problem, really. When we started our project in our town, like, when we found out how many people knew about it, it was just less than 15 percent. It was like, ten percent or so of residents even knew what E-waste was, so I mean, just the fact that it’s so little known and that by raising awareness we could just do so much to help it. That kind of grabbed our attention when we started the project.
LIN: Recycling-wise we’re not really sure about the amount. We just kind of hear back from CR2 Recycling because they weigh the trucks and they let us know how much we’ve been recycling every month or so. Because whenever a container fills up, the people at the transportation station they call them and they’ll send down a truck to bring it to the facility in Massachusetts.
CURWOOD: So it’s what—5,000 pounds a month or something like that?
LIN: Something like that. I mean it varies between month and month. I mean, some months it’s like 25 hundred, some months it’s a lot more. It all depends.
CURWOOD: Now you’re working internationally. You’ve taken the whole thing that you started in Westerly, Rhode Island and you’ve taken it to people around the world. How’s that working?
LIN: Yeah, it’s working really well right now. Right now one of our contacts and friends in Cameroon—Rosemary—and she’s been helping us to establish WIN teams in Africa and she’s been looking around in Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon. Right now we have two definite set-up WIN teams in Kenya and Cameroon and the rest are on the way. And she’s also helped us a lot by looking for schools that need computers so that computers in the U.S. used by companies in large numbers can be reused and sent to people across the world who really need these computers to help better their lives. And we have a Mexican WIN team who’s raising awareness. And right now I think Rosemary’s been talking with a team in the UK about starting a group there and we’re just kind of dealing with it as it comes because it’s been coming pretty fast for the past couple of months. But we’re going to have to do the work and we’re ready to do it, I guess.
LIN: Yeah, I definitely have a pretty good one that we did. You know, after the tsunami in 2004 there was a lot of shortages of computers, learning equipment, schools, teachers. We actually had a local pediatrician from our area—she went to Malaysia and Sri Lanka I think at the time to help out and she met an English teacher there and he contacted us saying there’s a need for computers over there and we ended up sending five computers and a laptop. And it was really cool because he sent us some pictures afterward of the children singing to like Barney software and other educational stuff that we put on there and afterwards they named the school the WIN learning center after our team and that was just like really cool that we could have such an impact on the other side of the world.
CURWOOD: By the way, how do you find the time to do all this work on top of what—homework, sports, piano, and well, let’s face it, being a kid?
LIN: Yeah. I don’t know. It kind of just depends. Like it’s more of a—I remember one of my friends I met at Brower in Boston—Carlos. He said it’s more of a lifestyle and I totally agree with him. Environmental justice community work is like a lifestyle. You kind of incorporate time to do it into every day and if not every day, definitely on a regular basis because I mean, sure there are times where I would have projects, reports, tests the next day. Or, even sports games and stuff that I need to get with, but usually I’m able to find time during the week to do the work.
CURWOOD: Alex Lin’s organization is called WIN, Westerly Innovations Network. Alex received the prestigious Brower Youth Award for young environmental leaders. Congratulations Alex, and thank you so much for taking this time.
LIN: Thanks a lot, Steve.
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