Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

The Dirt of E-Waste: Environmentalism Isn't Measured Only by Green Purchasing. A Healthy, Green Disposal Method Is the Back End of a District's Responsible Energy Plan

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

The Dirt of E-Waste: Environmentalism Isn't Measured Only by Green Purchasing. A Healthy, Green Disposal Method Is the Back End of a District's Responsible Energy Plan

Article excerpt

POP QUIZ! What happens to your computer equipment when you've declared it surplus? Does it get shuffled into a warehouse, awaiting attention at some unspecified later date? Do you stick it on a pallet and have it hauled away by a recycler? Do you sell it, refurbish it, ship it back to a vendor, or drive it to the dump?

Don't know? You're not alone. Most smart technology leaders can name multiple efforts they've already taken or expect to pursue in their schools to "green up" IT operations, such as powering off idle computers and virtualizing the data center. But one area that many of them may not be so savvy about is hardware disposal: What to do with the old stuff? After all, it's not something from which they can garner easy or obvious savings. But, as some districts have figured out, the disposal end of technology acquisition is as vital a part of purchasing decisions as choosing energy-efficient devices.

Nobody knows precisely how much e-waste is generated by schools nationwide. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Americans on the whole throw out about 130,000 computers a day. That tallies up to 47.5 million a year. And the numbers can only grow. Technology market researcher Gartner estimates that 15.6 million new PCs were shipped in the US during just the fourth quarter of 2008--and that was during an economic slowdown. It's safe to assume that the work of schools to refresh their technology contributes a fair share to that count.

So what should you do when you don't want your old machines anymore? It isn't sufficient to simply say, Recycle! Those good intentions often come to bad ends. According to a study by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, which advocates for a clean and safe high-tech industry, up to 80 percent of e-waste taken to recycling centers in this country ends up being exported to towns in developing countries for scrap recovery. There, according to a CBS 60 Minutes report last November titled "The Electronic Wasteland," residents, including children, use crude and toxic means to dismantle computers, monitors, and other electronics in an effort to remove precious metals, such as gold.

That's antithetical to what US educators want, explains Sarah O'Brien, outreach director of the Green Electronics Council, a Portland, OR-based organization that works for the environmentally safe use and reuse of electronic products. O'Brien educates purchasers and the public about the GEC's EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool), a system that helps green-minded buyers by establishing criteria that identify just how green a computing device is. "A lot of the criteria that have to do with toxics have a direct impact on kids," she says. "Not [just] the kids in the district--children across the world."

But districts that approach the disposal of their old, unwanted computer equipment with the proper diligence are finding that they have several options, all of which illustrate why unloading e-waste doesn't have to be dirty work.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Another School's Treasure

Before the concept of e-waste recycling was better understood, Union School District in San Jose, CA, would rent giant waste containers at great expense. The bins would be labeled "recyclable materials," recalls Mary Allen, supervisor of maintenance and operations. "But back then nobody paid attention. All we were told was, 'You can't put concrete or dirt in there.' We dumped everything. When I first started with the district, we had piles and piles of this stuff, because nobody knew what to do with it." Once the district learned that monitors and TVs were hazardous waste, says Allen, it held on to them.

The 4,000-student district picked up the disposal costs--about $1,000 dollars a year--until a company came along that offered to haul away the whole lot of electronics for free, including monitors, computers, copy machines, and printers. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.