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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Carleton addresses growing concern of e-waste

<uary at Carleton marks the beginning of Green Wars, a national competition in saving energy and reducing waste through recycling. So unplug your televisions, adjust your thermostats, and shutdown your computers. But do not throw your obsolete or unwanted electronics in the landfill.

Dumping the everyday electronics of a technologically advanced community like Carleton College in the trashcan with last week’s disposable silverware could mean allowing cadmium, mercury, beryllium, and lead to leach into groundwater and pollute the air. Exposure to these heavy metals can cause brain damage, impair learning, and harm the central nervous and reproductive systems.

Unfortunately, finding a responsible electronic recycling center to unload outdated technology is much more difficult than finding stores selling cameras, cell phones, computers, televisions, and other electronics.

Even in the unassuming rural Midwest town of Northfield, MN, area residents seem desperate to dispose of their electronics. At a December 8 electronic recycling event put together by Carleton ITS and Material Processing Corporation (MPC), event organizers and volunteers collected over 20,000 pounds of electronic waste from those who live nearby. People lugged computers from yesteryear out of their homes to fill one and a half semi trailers.

These electronics collection days have been successful elsewhere as well. In Bloomington, MN a similarly organized electronics collections center used the services of Material Processing Corporation to collect 1.5 million pounds of e-Waste in just one day. As people dropped off their outmoded equipment, they did not pay a cent. Usually, disposal costs between $5 and $25.

However, as a result of one of the first electronic recycling laws of its kind, fees and collection methods are changing in Minnesota. The state legislation requires that all manufacturers that sell electronics in Minnesota collect and recycle 80% of their products, by weight, sold in the state the previous year. This change puts the onus to recycle electronics on manufacturers instead of consumers. The e-recycling legislation also aims to inspire manufacturers to build longer lasting and less toxic electronics.

Also, requiring manufacturers to collect and recycle the waste could be helpful in making safe disposal easier and more widespread. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only between 15-20 percent of electronics sold are recycled. Additionally, America’s e-recyclers use rating systems and voluntary certifications to indicate how responsibly they handle electronic waste.

Unfortunately, the ratings and certifications have done little to ensure that most e-recyclers do not ship their electronics overseas. According to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, this is the common fate of most electronics – between 50 and 80 percent of all electronic waste collected by e-recyclers is actually exported to less developed nations and dumped.

There are other concerns with legislation that mandate manufacturers to collect used products, too. For instance, how will consumers learn about upcoming collection days? And if a manufacturer is not required to re-possess 100 percent of the products that they sold, what happens to the other portion of the products? Furthermore, will manufacturers move out of Minnesota before paying to collect and recycle their waste?

These questions show that even as Carls diligently unplug their computers and televisions during the month of February, problems connected to e-recycling are not going away. To the contrary, electronic waste is the world’s fastest growing waste stream.

Fortunately for Northfield and Carleton College, the chief executive officer of Minnesota-based Materials Processing Corporation, David Kutoff, is committed to stopping electronics from being dumped in less developed nations.

He states that “We are certified to the standards that apply to electronics recycling and we audit everyone that we do business with to be sure that material is being recycled properly.”

Carleton is planning another recycling event with Materials Processing Corporation for the spring.

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