Weighing in at more than 3 tons and standing nearly 23 feet tall, the WEEE Man isn’t your ordinary crusader for good. But his size definitely gives him an advantage.
People who see the leering two-story creation can’t resist walking over to find out what it is. What they learn is that the statue conveys a vital message about consumption, recycling and the impact electronic waste has on the planet.
The WEEE Man is the brainchild of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (more commonly known as The RSA), a centuries-old British think tank. He’s made from 3.3 metric tons of WEEE, or “waste electrical and electronic equipment,” which represents the average amount of electronic waste a single British citizen will generate in his or her lifetime.
The WEEE Man contains (among other things) 35 cell phones, 23 computer mice, 12 electric kettles, eight toasters, seven vacuum cleaners, six televisions, five refrigerators, four lawn mowers, three satellite dishes and one sewing machine. He was created to draw attention to the European Union’s WEEE Directive, which went into effect in January 2006.
Contemporary artist Paul Bonomini, the WEEE Man’s designer, said: “I designed him to look like he’s dragging himself out of landfill, coming back from the dead. He’s there to remind us of this monster that we’re creating when we dump these goods rather than recycle them.”
An ominous idea, but a good one all the same. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that in 2007 electronics recyclers collected 414,000 tons of material. That doesn’t include any e-waste that was reused or simply landfilled. On the whole, consumption is going up, not down, so Americans are certainly generating plenty of electronic waste as well.
The WEEE Directive requires that all member countries collect at least 4 kilograms of electrical or electronic waste per person every year. Manufacturers must participate in takeback efforts, and there are strict rules about exporting electronic waste. The law strongly encourages reuse as well as recycling.
While the U.S. hasn’t implemented such a comprehensive recycling program, 23 states now have electronics recycling laws intended to keep e-waste out of local landfills. Many of them include extended producer responsibility, or a requirement for manufacturers to find ways for their products to be reused or recycled rather than thrown away.
The WEEE Man now resides at The Eden Project, a hub for social and environmental programs, in Cornwall, England. His new home gives him the opportunity to continue his mission of influencing people to reduce, reuse and recycle, one washing machine at a time.