Chan Jian Hao Martyn
Rags to Riches:
Uncovering waste colonialism through the illegal e-waste trade

Thesis Supervisor: Dr. Lee Kah Wee

My architectural project aims to reveal the extent of the illegal electronic waste trade between developed and developing countries. And, to question how architecture could be a tool and instrument to raise transnational awareness about waste colonialism; the unequal relationship between developed and developing countries in terms of the flow of electronic waste.


The proposed architecture is a man-made floating electronic waste sorting and recycling facility in the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch that is located between the continents of Asia and America, intentionally designed to be visible from the satellite’s perspective as a way to raise transnational awareness of the global e-waste problem. The

facility would be a joint effort by world governments to combat the ever increasing e-waste issue, and also serve as a meeting point for country leaders to hold environmental conferences for world audience.


It is also a critique and statement to the Basel Convention that the illegal e-waste trade is a growing issue that cannot be solved just by regulations and laws set in place alone. But it requires action from every individual, business, corporation, government, country to question moral discourse and make a decisive stand on the dilemma between benefitting from capitalism at the expense of the environment and lives of people from the developing countries.

Global E-waste generation

This Sankey diagram depicts the global quantity of e-waste generated in a year and is split up into the 6 e-waste categories with the respective quantities in megatonnes.The six categories of e-waste are further dissected into their individual materials of quantity and value, depicting the total untapped monetary value of the raw materials in e-waste.

It is estimated that on a global scale, only 9.6 out of 44 tonnes of electronic waste is properly recycled and disposed of. The rest is either unknown or illegally exported from developed to developing countries to be dealt with through cheap labor costs.

Site Plan

The location of the E-waste recycling facility is marked by X. It takes 2.5H by plane from Oakland and Hawaii international airports and 2 days by boat. It intersects both the Pacific Garbage Patch and the trans-pacific shipping route.

Journey of E-waste through the facility

1. Perspective of E-waste Deposition and collection area.

2. E-waste sorting warehouse

3. Crusher and grinder

4. Magnetic Separator

5a. Electrostatic and Eddy Current Separator

5b. Gravitational and density separator

6. Conveyor belts

7. Plastic waste collection

8. Loading warehouse

9. Loading dock


The structure of the complex is made up of steel trusses that are anchored to the seabed with platforms attached to it. The central structure makes use of space frames to create the circular shape. The complex is operated by solar panels that are situated on the rooftops of the warehouses and the convention center. They are connected to electrical generators which power the machinery.