Collecting E-Waste as a Project

Written by Ruah Swennerfelt of Transition Town Charlotte Vermont

Annually for one day in May, people throughout Vermont walk their streets and roads to clean up the debris left during the winter and take it all to a drop off point in their town. It’s a fun and richly fulfilling community event, called Green Up Day (www.greenupdayvermont.org). For the last decade, Transition Town Charlotte Vermont (TTC) has joined with the Vermont Green Up Day efforts in our town to collect electronic waste. This is done, in part to educate people about not adding the waste into Vermont’s only landfill and to connect with the members of our community. Here is part of the ad we posted this year in the local newspaper and our on-line community news.

Do you have old stereos, VCRs, boomboxes, etc. that are just cluttering your house? Are you wanting to be sure they don't end up in the landfill? Then we have a solution for you! Once again Transition Town Charlotte will join Green Up Day efforts, and coordinate the collection of electronic waste. In addition to the importance of cleaning up the waste we find on our roadsides, the electronic collection eliminates thousands of pounds of hazardous items and potentially recyclable rare minerals from ending up in our Vermont landfill. Even though it's not legal in Vermont to throw away what is recyclable, many people are still filling our landfill with electronics. Good Point Recycling, who collects the electronics, helps make sure that the items are either sold if they still work, recover parts that can be used again, and recycle whatever can be collected by the solid waste districts.

 

We can collect all electronic devices such as computers and their components, DVDs, VCRs, stereo's, phones, record players, radios, tv's, laptops, video machines, microwaves, small kitchen electronics, electronic exercise equipment, fans, and all their various chords and chargers. We cannot accept appliances such as air conditioners, stoves, refrigerators, washers, and dryers. Thanks for making this collection such a success in prior years. Let's keep Vermont clean and beautiful.

We asked Good Point Recycling about how they sort and use waste, after hearing that they have relationships in African countries, especially Ghana. Here’s part of what we learned:

It's always good when people care enough to investigate their recycling “downstream.” And gives Good Point a chance to speak out about the accidental racial profiling of the Tech Sector in emerging markets, due to normal waste generation from African cities which is mislabeled as "recent imports".

 

Good Point tracks each pound of material through their facility, and their R2 certification involves following the total amount sold for reuse overseas or exported as finished raw material (black HPS plastic, aluminum, etc) overseas. Good Point’s net exports of intact units (other than to Canada) were 6% of all their material last year. Most recyclers stop here, show they are not exporting for dumping, and allow the clients to believe they (the recycler) is a special good actor and that the dumping is rampant among other recyclers. If the client believes dumping is rampant, and a facility proves I'm not dumping, they look better as a recycler.

 

As founders of Fair Trade Recycling, we at Good Point know Agbogbloshie (the City of Accra (capital of Ghana) dump) very well. We have been there on several occasions.

 

Here is where many people misunderstand what is going on. Africa had 250 television stations in 1977. According to the World Bank, most Accra households had TVs, computers, and phones in 2002. What happens is that the African cities eventually replace or discard their electronics - and tires, and refrigerators, and computers, and phones - just as Europeans and Americans do. The main difference is that Africans repair and reuse the devices much longer (average 15 years, as compared to under 5 years).

 

Good Point is passionate about the African Tech Sector, who import used goods. Their association is part of a 3 university research project (Memorial U, USC, and PUCP-Lima) which have now published several peer-reviewed articles on Agbogbloshie in particular and e-scrap exports in general. Our research led to the ending of an INTERPOL prosecution of African importers and exporters after we exposed the false imprisonment of a Nigerian TV repairman in 2013. 

Good Point exports electronic components to Ghana. Peter Funk of Good Point said that the tech folks are brilliant in their ability to bring back to life the parts that they receive. Robin Ingenthron, Good Point CEO and founder said that the Africans who are capable of putting together $20,000 purchase orders, arranging export and import documentation, distributing the goods across tech sector channels, are largely in the position of control. 

Transition Town Charlotte volunteers work in pairs in 2-hour shifts. It’s a wonderful opportunity to talk with people about the Transition Movement and be part of something important to the town. We laugh at some of the old, huge, tube TVs and antiquated equipment. One year my husband, Louis, pictured carrying a tv, noticed that the record turntable someone was about to dump was of better quality than our own, so he grabbed it and, sure enough, it’s been working great ever since. If Good Point sees that something works, they’ll sell it on eBay. And a month or so after Green Up Day on the first year we participated, we received a $500 check as thanks. That donation has become our major source of income each year. What a joy to do something because you care about the planet and be surprised with a reward.

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