U recycling system goes to (e-)waste

An on-campus drop off site for e-waste would encourage students to recycle properly.

Elizabeth Ireland

In my 19 years on this planet, I have gone through a lot of electronics. There was my Walkman, a boombox, an iPod, an Xbox and three cell phones, to name just a few.

The funny thing is that although these items are long dead and abandoned, I probably still have all of them shoved into odd drawers and closets back home. Who even knows what to do with those things, anyway?

As it turns out, the University of Minnesota does. The University has an excellent system for electronic waste disposal, but it seems that few students are aware of this.

In fact, it seems like students have very little awareness of e-waste at all. Rob Ludewig, a sophomore, says that he has âÄúnot the slightestâÄù idea what e-waste is.

âÄúI know youâÄôre not supposed to dump that stuff so IâÄôve mostly had to bring it all the way back [home], since I donâÄôt know where to bring it up here.âÄù he said.

Joey Senkyr, an electrical engineering junior, has similarly little knowledge of electronic waste disposal at school. âÄúI know that you take it to a recycling center,âÄù he said. âÄúI know where it is [at home], but not in the cities.âÄù

Electronic waste, or e-waste, is considered hazardous waste by the state of Minnesota if not properly managed. A lot of materials are defined as e-waste, and the most relevant to students are computers, keyboards, printers, scanners, circuit boards, televisions, calculators and cell phones, according to the UniversityâÄôs Department of Environmental Health and Safety.

As you can probably imagine, the amount of electronic waste accumulated each year is growing. Twenty to 50 million metric tons of it are thrown away annually. Only up to 18 percent of that is recycled, despite the fact that it is full of valuable resources like silver, gold and titanium, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

When it is recycled, those resources can be used in new products, saving energy needed for resource production. In addition, much of the âÄúwasteâÄù is actually still useable and can be refurbished.

 Along with positive resources that we can repurpose, e-waste also contains toxic materials that should be properly disposed of, but often times are not.

In many cases, the e-waste is shipped out of the country for others to deal with. After arriving in countries such as China, Pakistan and India, the waste is taken apart by workers who are rarely protected from the toxins inside. Arsenic, lead and mercury are just a few of the materials that end up in landfills all over the world because of improperly recycled electronics.

Which is why the UâÄôs e-cycling process is so great. According to the DEHS, the University generates over 600,000 pounds of e-waste each year. It comes from University equipment and a very small amount comes from the material collected from resident halls during move-outs.

All of the trash that is collected is sent to their contractor, Asset Recovery. They clean memories and either refurbish the equipment for resale or dismantle the components for recycling. They are prohibited from international shipments unless strict criteria are met.

With such a great e-cycling system in place, it seems strange that the University doesnâÄôt advertise it. While most students have probably seen pushes on campus to âÄúbe greenâÄù by turning off the lights and conserving water, few realize that electronic garbage requires special recycling methods and fewer still know what to do with it.

Students have several options for their e-cycling needs, but none of them are particularly conspicuous.

Outside of the University system, waste can be taken to the local Waste Management Center on Broadway Street or be dropped off at a Best Buy store.

The University Recycling Program will arrange to pick up your non-computer materials if you call, and as mentioned above, those living in the dorms can wait until collection at the end of the year.

Still, these options are limited. Taking your old electronics to outside sources for recycling creates uncertainty about the ultimate fate of the devices, whereas the University is crystal clear about its recycling process.

The University should make the most of its program. It should raise awareness about e-cycling, and furthermore, it should establish an on-campus drop off site.

Gene Christensen, the Chemical Waste Manager at DEHS, says that a drop off has been discussed and is possible. But: âÄúIt is difficult to predict if an on-campus drop-off would encourage student e-cycling,âÄù he said.

We students need to show that we want an e-waste drop off. I encourage you to write to the University Department of Environmental Health and Safety and express interest in an on-campus site. You can also show demand for e-cycling by using the University-sponsored options that already exist.

The amount of electronic waste that we as students accumulate is increasing every year, making it even more important that we properly dispose of it. The proximity of a campus drop-off would turn e-cycling into a small undertaking rather than a drawn-out process.

WeâÄôve got junk, and they know what to do with it. If student demand is strong enough, an on-campus drop-off site could be in our future.

Ludewig and Senkyr said they could âÄúabsolutelyâÄù use an on-campus site. âÄúI would recycle right now,âÄù said Senkyr.

The UniversityâÄôs e-recycling process is great; we just need an easier way to access it. After all, that Walkman has been in my closet far too long.