Chinese artist highlights e-waste with cellphone “Tower of Babel”

A 2013 United Nations report called China the “largest e-waste dumping site in the world”, and chances are that a large amount of the electronic junk that we discard ends up in electronic dumpsites in the Land of the Red Dragon.

The environmental organisation Greenpeace recently tasked a Chinese artist with creating an artwork that would draw the attention to this huge environmental problem, citing that China’s electronic waste (which may include mobile phones, computers, tablets and other electronic devices) would amount to 15.4 million tonnes by the end of 2020.

Shen Bolun’s art installation, titled “Tongtian” was unveiled in a busy shopping mall in China’s capital city Beijing at the beginning of April. The sculpture features a structure shaped like a cellphone tower, and a number of discarded mobile phones that are synchronised so their screens flash in various colours.

Speaking to AFP, Shen explained that his art installation was inspired by the Biblical tale of Babel, an origin story that explains why people speak different languages.

At the launch of the installation, Greenpeace project manager Jiang Zhuoshan said that China was the logical place to launch a campaign that tries to address the environmental problems that e-waste creates. Considering the value of the large amounts of metal contained in old electronic devices, it makes economic sense to promote e-waste recycling.

“If these metals are recycled, we can reduce mining and damaging the environment,” said Jiang.

Shen’s art installation is already making locals think, it seems. Primary school student, Li Jiaxing, who viewed the sculpture with his mother, told AFP that he would now look differently at recycling old electronics.

“I originally thought environmental protection is waste sorting, but I didn’t realise cellphones could be recycled and used again. After seeing this tower, I decided to donate my old cellphone here to make use of its remaining value,” said Li.

To safely discard your own electronic waste in South Africa, visit the eWASA website to find your nearest e-waste recycling facility.

Have a look at a video of Shen Bolun’s “Tongtian” below.


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