Musician in Residence for TRACE-E Project

Robin has recently been awarded funding for a environmentally-themed creative project through University of Southampton. Running until the end of March 2022, the Musician in Residence Project (TRACE-E) immerses Robin with scientists at the University, alongside key specialists in areas such as semiconductor technology, waste management and sustainability. The role, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), culminates in performances of a new work, composed and directed by Robin, as part of SOTSEF – the University’s Science and Engineering Festival – in Turner Sims Concert Hall.

TRACE-E (TRAnsitioning to a Circular Economy – Electronic waste focus) is a continuation of the SÓN eWaste Project in 2020, part of the original TRACE Project. This series of concerts about Electronic Waste (eWaste) recently won ‘Campaign of the Year’ Award at London’s National Recycling Awards for its galvanising societal impact on the local community. The events featured 85 schoolchildren, alongside SÓN professional musicians, co-composed and conducted by Robin, who also led school workshops leading towards the final performances.

A Creative Response to a Crucial Issue

The current project maintains the Electronic Waste focus, pairing Robin with scientists at the University’s arm-ecs research lab – which links research to industry, in conjunction with ARM, the semiconductor giant. He’ll also be working on creative responses to eWaste, sustainability and the circular economy, liaising closely with specialists in Optoelectronics, Waste Management & Recycling, and at the University’s famed Zepler Institute.

Robin’s artistic aim is to bring the ongoing environmental crisis further to the fore through sound, movement and imagery. Having worked in conjunction with those at the cutting edge of science and technology, he will fuse music, words, graphics and film, extending the original TRACE project, and delving deeper into core issues of global sustainability, and the impact of eWaste on humankind across the planet.

He will be updating regularly here on the Blog, as well as on social media channels, inviting people to step behind the scenes, to share in the creative process, and follow the unfolding of a new musical work responding to this most crucial of issues.

Background: more about eWaste & TRACE-E

Professor Ian Williams – Principal Investigator for the TRACE-E Project – explains more about eWaste and the aims of the project:

There are many pressing problems facing modern society and this includes the development of a sustainable approach to waste/resource management. Waste generation is connected to the socio-economic status of nations. At one extreme, there are 50,000 dumpsites in the world that need closing or significant improvement in developing countries. At another, in developed countries there is a strong desire to transition to a circular economy using innovative ideas from research projects and industrial partnerships. World-leading research led by Ian Williams has highlighted that global ewaste generation in 2019 was approximately 54 million tonnes, a rise from 45 Mt reported in 2016, with a global average of 7.3 kg/person/year. This generation rate is expected to increase significantly annually over the next few years, with total volume generated expected to rise to 75 Mt by 2030.

The incorrect disposal of ewaste is costly; the potential resale value of ewaste disposed of in UK residual waste bins could be as much as £196–215 million by 2030. Reducing the quantity of ewaste entering UK landfills, including that incorrectly disposed via the residual waste stream, via reuse and recycling could allow total emission reductions of between 312 and 344 Mt CO2e by 2030. Estimates show a stockpile of >17 million small electrical/ electronic devices across the UK with a reuse value of >£571 million. The UK is the worst offender in Europe for illegally shipping its ewaste to developing countries; an estimated 40% of ewaste collected in the UK – up to 209,000 tonnes – is illegally exported overseas, while around 155,000 tonnes is sent to domestic landfill or incineration sites. This is unsustainable and damaging to the UK’s reputation.

All sectors of society have roles in enabling a transition that cannot occur without active public participation. However, because so many factors influence ewaste generation, finding mechanisms to engage and motivate the public towards effective resource management is hugely challenging. Over the last 50 years, large numbers of Political, Environmental, Social, Technological, Legal and Economic (PESTLE) approaches to waste management have been trialled with only slow progress achieved. 

This project (TRACE-E) aims to further develop a new approach to engage and inspire the public in order to accelerate the transition to a circular economy by partnering academics and industrial partners with a musician in residence to raise awareness, provide inspiration and generate behaviour change relating to ewaste. The original IAA-funded project, TRACE, was submitted to EPSRC as an exemplar case study and has been nominated and shortlisted for global (ISWA Communication Award) and won the UK national (National Recycling Awards) prizes.