Recycling Challenge: Your Computer

Two organizations ready to rid you of your Commodore 64
by Samantha Wittchen

Let’s be honest. Did you purchase a Gateway 2000 back in 1991 because you simply couldn’t resist those Holstein cow spots on the packaging? And now where is it? If you’re like many Americans, it’s probably waiting for a better home in a corner of your basement with your old Zenith console TV and the world’s oldest laptop computer. According to the EPA’s most recent statistics of computers, monitors, peripherals and televisions sold between 1980 and 2007, approximately 235 million units have been accumulated in storage, and that number doesn’t even take into account old audio equipment and cellular devices.

Many Philadelphians understand that they should recycle these unwanted electronic products, but this poses another problem. Where can they take e-waste to ensure that it will be recycled properly and not shipped to a third world country?

Enter the Institution Recycling Network (IRN), which partners with organizations to sponsor Weird Waste Days. “IRN has been handling e-waste for 10 years, and it has never been exported,” states Ann King-Musza of IRN. The most recent Weird Waste Day they organized with the Mt. Airy Business Association brought in six tons of e-waste in three hours. The September event cost contributors 32 cents per pound of electronics they brought for recycling, but properly deconstructing electronics is a labor-intensive process, and that cost ensures that it’s done right.

IRN does a lot of outreach before events to inform the public that e-waste will be deconstructed responsibly. They have a stringent process for auditing deconstruction companies, and they have just begun working with Philadelphia-based Eforce Compliance. IRN is partnering with Green in Chestnut Hill (GRINCH), a group interested in furthering sustainable practices in Chestnut Hill, to hold another Weird Waste Day on November 14 at the John Story Jenks Elementary School.

Another environmentally responsible partnership is the one between Goodwill Industries of Southern NJ & Philadelphia and Dell. Together they run Reconnect, a free drop-off program to recycle unwanted computer equipment. They accept all brands of computers and peripherals in their donation centers. Goodwill workers, who are typically disadvantaged in the workforce, then sort the equipment based on Dell criteria, and Dell handles the remainder of the recycling process.

Three months ago, they expanded the scope of the program beyond their stores, and now partner with about a dozen New Jersey municipalities to provide electronics recycling to residents. Bob Hain, the director of the program, says he eventually hopes to partner with the City of Philadelphia. In the meantime, Philadelphia residents can take their computer equipment to either of the two Goodwill donation centers in South Philadelphia (Front and Oregon or 22nd and Passyunk).