Informal E-waste Recycling 

Living with

I conducted ethnographic and empirical field research at a political and violence inflicted informal electronic waste recycling site in Mexico city to understand the perspective of the dismantlers. During 3 months, I used and designed multiple research methodologies and interacted with different individuals and institutions to gain in-depth insights.
Mexico City, 2018

This research ethically uses unconventional mediums to narrate the work and life of an informal electronic-waste recycling worker.
In this year-long project, I explored the Informal electronic-waste recycling practice in Colonia Renovación, Mexico City. By ethically performing empirical investigaton in a political and violence-inflicted life-risky site and using art mediums as ethnographic research tools.

Research tool:

Blanco Camisas

Blanco Camisas (White T-shirts) are t-shirts worn by electronic recyclers working in Colonia Renovación, Mexico City for a day. As a design research tool, these t-shirts capture the amount of exposure a worker with work residue. They narrates the day long e-waste labour via dirty prints, acid drops, ink and food stains. Also, it acts as the canvas with an open interpretation showing impressions drawn through the unintentional finger prints on the shirt imprinted via actions taken by a dismantler while dismantling electronic devices.

The upper body clothing item is the representation of the world of informal electronic-waste recycling. They are the mere essence of the human being who lives in that world by capturing their personality, thoughts, body actions, movement, physical strain and even the smell of the body.

How to narrate the work of an electronic-waste recycling worker by capturing their workspacewithout using any recording media and keeping their identity anonymous?

Tools + Material
White T-shirt

Field ResearchInsider perspectiveParticipatory Exercise

Colonia Renovación, Mexico City



Research tool: 2

Grassroot Comics

Inspired by the grassroots comics, ‘comics as a communication tool’ as well as a ‘medium for self-expression’ by world comics organisation. This qualitative workshop was conducted with the family of an electronic waste dismantler working at the informal electronic waste management site, Colonia Renovación, Mexico City for 30 years. The motive was to understand his personal perspective, experiences and problems being a recycler while keeping his and his family’s identity discreet.  

This exercise showed evidence against the presumptions of an outsider(researcher) that the family will definitely share their concerns about working with toxic waste but turns out it was not their main worry at all. The income from the waste business was running their home and putting food on the table.

This shows why the field engagement is a crucial part of design practice. The industrialists solution to build better recycling facility and expensive machinery to recycle electronics will
take away the jobs of millions of people employed in informal recycling. 

Tools + Material
White Paper, Color marker, Zoom Audio recorder, Iphone SE

Workshop management, Documentation, Field research,

Qualitative research, Conversation starter, Insider perspective, Ethnographic research, Participatory Exercise

Colonia Renovación, Mexico City



Each family member shared 1 story in 4 frames.

The Mother: She drew the time when her young daughter
was conceived 1 month earlier before the due date and grew up mentally challenged. And how she wished if she could have afforded better medical facility things would have been fine.

The 12-year-old kid: The young kid traveled from Guerrero, Mexico to Colonia Renovación, CDMX in the search
of work and was learning electronic waste recycling under the guidance of his uncle. He loves playing basketball and remembers the beautiful scenery of sunset when he was in the bus leaving
his hometown.

The Father: He shared how he started working in landfill
as a young kid, then got involved in gang violence but still working in recycling municipal waste. Later, he started working
in medical waste recycling business and now, he is an electronic waste dismantler. He also told that he never been to hospital for any treatment.