In part two of our Untapped Special Report on electronic waste, we headed up to the Bronx to check out a Lower East Side Ecology Center recycling event. Christine Datz-Romero, co-founder of the LES Ecology Center, was on hand running the event and providing lots of food for thought. Did you know that 100 cell phones have enough gold inside to make a wedding ring? Or that today, it’s more efficient to mine our waste for gold, than to dig it out of the earth?
The LES Ecology Center recycling events are run in conjunction with WeRecycle!, an e-Stewards certified recycler and member of the Basel Network, dedicated to environmentally responsible and sustainable recycling. Corporate companies like Panasonic, Toshiba, ConEdison and Tekserve sponsor the events. The LES Ecology Center runs these recycling events year round, accepting your old electronics for free. They’ve ramped up events this April for Earth Day. They’ve collected 100 tons of electronics in January, and 50 tons so far in April. They usually set up at a public location, like a park, that allow for curbside drop-off and visibility for ease and educational reasons.
Christine spoke of some major challenges to e-waste recycling:
1. The challenges of adequate transportation: Their most successful recycling event is in Staten Island due to the car culture, which makes it easier to move large items like televisions and old clunky computers. To help alleviate this divide, the LES Ecology Center has a partnership with Zipcar. You get a $15 driving credit if you show your membership card at a recycling event this spring. There’s also a discount for joining Zipcar using the promo EWASTE–$25 signup discount and a $60 driving credit! Companies like the 4th Bin also provide pick-ups at your home or office, for a small fee.
2. The mental leap needed to throw away your old computers: Christine says there’s a conception that it’s “crazy to throw something like [a computer] in the trash.” We often think, “this was really expensive,” and it was certainly true in the days that a computer could cost you $3000. The shorter life cycle of consumer products also contributes to this hoarding mentality. As a result, we’re creating “closet fills” instead of landfills. But there really is an “untapped potential” in e-waste, she says, which can only be mined through the aggregation of material–like crowdsourcing.
3. Fear of throwing away personal data: This is a common fear. She says that people arrive to the recycling event armed with a hammer and want to personally destroy their hard drives. But it’s better and more effective to have a certified recycler do it for you. WeRecycle! for example, offers data destruction services. And everything that gets dropped off at recycling events goes through the “shredder,” which does exactly what it says it does to your electronics.
Nonetheless, Christine has noticed a perceptible shift in the types of products being dropped off since they started in 2003. Enormous televisions and computers are becoming less frequent over the last few years, as people have started to dispose of them. The Producer Responsibility Laws have given manufacturers an incentive to use less toxic materials, because it will simply make it cheaper for them to recycle later. And most promising, the work of the LES Ecology Center in e-waste, which Christine spearheaded, has grown. At the first e-waste event she says, “It became clear to us it was an important thing to do and we knew we had to do more.” This summer they will be opening a permanent drop-off location that will also serve as a job training facility for the community. She hopes this will also begin to address the digital divide that still exists here.
The next e-waste recycling events by the LES Recycling center are:
PS 29 Schoolyard, Baltic St between Henry St and Clinton St, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Sunnyside Community Services, 39th Street between Queens Blvd and 43rd Ave, Queens, NY 11104
Stanton Street between Bowery and Chrystie Street, New York, NY 10002
Penn South, West 26th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues, New York, NY 10001
Stuyvesant Town, 14th Street Loop (enter at 14th Street & Avenue A), New York, NY 10009
We hope to give you a look at the WeRecycle! facilities for the next Untapped Special Report on e-waste.