My family at a take-apart event at Upcycle Recycling in Alexandria, Virginia

Take-Apart Events and E-Waste

When was the last time you took apart something that was broken – either to fix it or just to be curious? There are many benefits to taking apart broken electronics and machines. You might actually fix it (if you take it apart slowly and photograph how it looks step-by-step). It will make it easier to recycle when the metal, plastic, rubber and other components are separated. And if you have a young person in the house, you might inspire them to take on a career in engineering or design. In today’s podcast, get tips on how to run a successful take-apart event – either at home or in your community.

You can listen to my podcast episode on take-apart events and e-waste in this YouTube video. It originally aired in September 2017.

Tips on Running a Successful Take-Apart Event

Get more details by listening to the podcast or downloading the show notes for this episode.

    1. Collect items with screwsTo download a list of recommended items for take-apart events, see below.
    2. Avoid glass, blades and dust – Remove hard drives before the event to ensure data protection. Some events offer safety glasses and gloves.
    3. Protect the workspace – Establish boundaries where people should take things apart with tape or a rope. Sweep and vacuum afterwards. Use old furniture or cover tables.
    4. Gather screwdrivers and pliers – Especially pointy-nosed pliers, locking pliers and extra tiny screwdrivers from computer toolkits. A collection of Allen wrenches helps too.
    5. Take-apart is a gentle activity – Remind participants not to bash things. Do not offer hammers.
    6. Consider hosting girls-only events – Where I live in northern Virginia, there is a program called Girls Excelling in Math and Science or GEMS that hosts take-apart events for girls.
    7. Get take-apart items from friends – Be careful when asking for donations. People might think you will permanently gather items and they might dump items on your door step after the event. Instead, spread the word with contacts who understand this is a short-term idea.
    8. Have a storage plan – Do you have a place to store the donated items before the event? Do you have an e-waste recycling company ready to take the items afterwards?
    9. Take photos of deconstructed items – To engage photography enthusiasts, consider setting up an area where you can lay out all the components of an item & take a photo. For inspiration, check out the book Things Come Apart by Todd McLellan.
    10. Fix things – Participants could take things apart in order to fix them like the story of my dad’s snowblower. There is a concept called Fixer’s Collectives where people bring broken items to a community event to learn how to fix them.
    11. Offer suggestions of what people can make – Some events offer glue guns or other tools so people can make art. At the start of the event, make it clear whether people can take things home. I gathered project ideas on a Pinterest board that you could share at the take-apart event to give ideas of what to look for when they are deconstructing.
    12. Help participants process what they are learning – I would love to host an event where I gather observations from participants about what they are learning. What is surprising about what’s inside these devices? What trends do they see in how things are made, comparing older and newer devices?

Items My Family Took Apart

Looking at the motherboard of the treadmill
Taking apart our broken treadmill
Picking off the yucky fluffy stuff from the coir layer in the mattress
Taking apart a mattress and box spring

Artists Who Incorporate E-Waste in Their Work

Great Resources on Take-Apart Events


Take It Apart! event at Brooks Library in Brattleboro, Vermont

Taking Apart a Treadmill

Show Details