Today’s Solutions: October 17, 2021

Alex Lin is fixing old computers – and the planet.

| April 2008 issue

Alex Lin, a 14-year-old living in ­Westerly, Rhode Island, is like most kids today. He plays sports, hangs out with friends and worries about the future of the Earth. But unlike most teenagers—or people of any age—he’s taken big steps to tackle environmental problems.
It all started when he was 11 and read a newspaper article about e-waste, toxic chemicals from discarded computers that leech into groundwater and soil. “I didn’t even know that was a problem,” he says. “But I thought we could do something about it.”
And Alex has done a lot. With friends, he founded the Westerly Innovations Network (WIN), and testified in favour of a proposed state law to prohibit computers from being dumped in the garbage. When that failed, he and his friends wrote their own version of the bill, which passed as a local ordinance in Westerly and was approved by the Rhode Island legislature. It goes into effect in August.
What ­should people do with outdated computers anyway? “The best thing is to recycle them,” Alex says. “So we asked people in the community to donate old computers to us.”
His father, an engineer, showed the kids how to test the machines for problems and fix them. Cast-off computers they ­collected are now used in local schools as well as those in Mexico and Sri Lanka. If they can’t be repaired, they go to a recycling company. Today, Alex and his pals are working with the United Nations Environment Programme to draft a plan for distributing used computers to children around the world.
“I want to keep doing something like this,” Alex says when asked his future plans. “But I’m not sure exactly what.”


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