Girl-Powered Solutions to Save the World

Ega Sribuarti, a high school student in Bogor, says it bothers her when she sees her friends charging their cellphones in class.

“I think it’s almost a form of corruption. In a way, they’re stealing energy,” the 15-year-old said.

So, when Ega was selected by her school to take part in a science competition for high school girls to solve the problem of electronic waste, she and two of her friends, Elsa Afiani and Arum Aswiniarti, came up with the idea of making a solar-powered phone charger.

The team said it took them a week to build the charger, which was constructed using recycled materials they found in their neighborhood — specifically, 30 secondhand aluminum transistors that they got from a repair shop.

For their efforts, the team from public high school SMAN 1 Citeureup received first prize on Wednesday at the L’Oreal Girls Science Camp, organized by cosmetics company L’Oreal Indonesia in partnership with UN science body Unesco.

Now in its seventh year, the camp is part of L’Oreal’s “For Women in Science” program, which aims to encourage young women to pursue scientific research through competitions and scholarships.

The theme for this year’s camp was “Let’s Save the World from Electronic Waste.” The theme was chosen to highlight the growing problem of e-waste. It is estimated that 20 million to 50 million tons of computers, cellphones and other electronics are thrown away each year.

Electronics contain a variety of potentially hazardous materials, such as lead, mercury and cadmium. A report by the United Nations Environment Program concluded that the amount of e-waste being created could increase by as much as 500 percent over the next 10 years in developing countries such as India.

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This year’s science camp competition asked students to come up with innovative solutions to the problem of e-waste. More than 100 participants submitted proposals, and the top 15 were given the chance to present their ideas during the competition’s final round in Ciawi, Bogor.

The competitors consisted of teams from 15 schools throughout Java. Each team was made up of three female high school sophomores. The jury judged teams on their creativity, presentation skills, teamwork and the originality and relevance to the theme of their ideas.

Second prize in the contest went to the team from SMAN 1 Rangkasbitung in Banten, which came up with a multifunctional cooling pad, dubbed the “coolpad.” The cooling pad not only serves to keep the temperature of a laptop down, but also doubles as a speaker.

Dewi Rizky, Hilma Muthi’ah and Yunita Fahni spent a month developing the coolpad. They said their goal was to create something that their friends would actually use.

“Many of our friends have turned from using desktop computers to laptops, but they get hot very quickly,” Dewi said.

Hilma said there were several older, obsolete computers at their school that were no longer being used.

The team designed a way to use many of those computers’ components — such as their cases, fans, CD-ROM drives and speaker units — and reconfigure them to make their cooling pad. They said the project only cost Rp 33,000 ($4), to buy screwdrivers, sandpaper and spray paint.

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Third prize in the competition went to the girls from SMAN 1 Sumedang in Sumedang, West Java, who made an electric blackboard.

Nurfitria Khoirunnisa, Yuliantini and Indah Nur said that at first they wanted to build a simple projector, but they came up with a new idea when they saw their teacher struggling to get students to do the daily chore of erasing the blackboard.

The blackboard at their school is an old chalkboard, unlike the white-boards found at more modern schools, and cleaning it is a difficult and dusty job.

The group installed an electric eraser that can clean the entire surface of the board in one sweeping motion, although they said they had not yet figured out how to apply the right amount of pressure.

Another original idea came from the team from Bina Nusantara International School in Serpong, which named its project Clothed Carbon.

What Shabrina Nadhira, Jessica Giovanni and Prinka Anandawardhani did was quite simple. They stripped unused batteries and removed their carbon rods in a lab. They then soaked the carbon in acid overnight to get rid of any hazardous materials, and bound the rods with unused cable to turn them into usable pencils.

During their presentation, the team said their carbon pencils would be helpful for art and design students, who they said had to spend large amounts of money on high-quality pencils. Prinka said they could spend up to Rp 5 million on pencils every year.

By recycling the carbon rods from batteries, these girls hope they can help their school save money while also protecting the environment.

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“This is only the first step. We plan to develop colored carbon, and find ways to make thicker carbon,” Shabrina said.

As the students’ presentations showed, solutions to electronic waste can start from the simplest things. But Camelia Panatarani, a teacher and physicist who was one of the judges at the competition, said a comprehensive solution to the country’s electronic waste problem was still far off.

Camelia said electronic waste had become a growing concern for Indonesian scientists, which was why they proposed the topic to the science camp’s organizers.

Unfortunately, she said, scientists are unable to implement proper electronic waste disposal procedures because of the country’s chaotic waste management system.

“What makes it really difficult is that Indonesians put very little thought into how they get rid of their junk,” she said. She added that awareness about recycling was still very limited throughout the country.

A real solution to the problem of waste in general, and electronic waste specifically, can only start when people start separating their waste and becoming more environmentally conscious in their behavior, Camelia said.

As for first-prize winners Ega, Else and Arum from SMAN 1 Citeureup, they don’t have any plans as yet for their Rp 5 million in prize money. But with any luck, these young, talented scientists will help the country find a permanent solution to its e-waste problem.( Siregar)


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