Thursday, November 15, 2012

Electronics: The Good and the Bad

Today is America Recycles Day (of course, at SMC, EVERY day is recycle day)!

Did you know that in the state of Vermont, electronics are banned from the landfill?  They are and have been since January 2011!  That means it’s illegal for students, staff and faculty to put any type of electronic device/object in the dumpsters. 

The Toxic Side of our Electronics
Why are electronics banned from the landfill?  They contain toxic materials (such as lead, mercury, chromium, brominated flame-retardants, beryllium, arsenic, phthalates etc.!) that are harmful to humans, wildlife and our environment.  Electronics should be recovered and recycled or disposed of responsibly so that all those toxic materials don't end up in our bodies, animals and our surrounding environment. 

Saint Michael’s Responsible Disposal of Electronics
At Saint Mike’s, we make every effort to make sure electronics from our campus are responsibly taken care of.  How?  For the past four years we have partnered with Good Point Recycling, one of the region’s leading “e-waste” recycling operations based in Middlebury.  Good Point is operated by American Retroworks Inc, a nationally recognized electronic recycling company and a respected expert in “Fair Trade Recycling.”  By using Good Point, we ensure that the electronics from our campus do not end up in backyard recycling operations in developing countries.  Learn more about Good Point: http://www.retroworks.net/

The Bad Side of E-Waste
There are unfortunately some companies out there that find it more “expensive” to properly recycle electronic items.  For them, they feel that there is more money to be had by shipping the electronics to developing countries (India, Nigeria, Ghana, China) where they end up in backyard recycling operations.  Here, workers have very little safety protection to handle the electronics: workers will smash and burn them to retrieve the valuable metals inside.  This process exposes not only the workers, but the surrounding environment as well, to the horrible toxics inside.
 
 
Thanks to the college’s Electronic Recycling Program and our wonderful crew in Facilities, we’ve kept over 29 tons of electronics out of the landfill.   Is that a good number though?  Is the graph indicating a good trend or a negative trend?  On one hand, great, we’ve kept so many tons of electronics out of our landfills and have ensured that they’ve been properly disposed of.  On the other hand, the trend, in my opinion, is not encouraging at all.  Why are we throwing away so much stuff??  As the person who runs the electronic recycling program and whose office is in the same building where it’s all stored, more than half of the items I see are still in good working condition!  We’ve become a society that is constantly yearning for the next big/new/flashy thing in technology and doesn’t think about the implications of tossing out an item for another…year after year.


If I can’t put my electronics in the dumpsters on campus, what do I do?
Faculty and Staff à place a work order in the Physical Plant work order system to have the items picked up by Facilities and brought to our Electronic Storage area (for college owned items only, for personal electronics from home go to http://www.cswd.net/recycling/electronics/ )
Students à Make arrangements to bring your obsolete electronics to our Electronic Storage area on North Campus – contact me, the Sustainability Coordinator, for more details

For a good study/work break, check out this informative video on electronic recycling:  http://www.storyofstuff.org/movies-all/story-of-electronics/