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Where does Colgate’s electronic waste go?

By Sustainability Office on November 27, 2013

During the summer of 2010, Office of Sustainability interns Meghan Kiernan ‘11 and Andrew Pettit ’11 took a road trip with Colgate’s Director of Sustainability, John Pumilio, to visit the Regional Computer Recycling & Recovery Center (RCR&R) in Rochester, NY. For the past 6 years, RCR&R has been handling Colgate’s electronic waste (eWaste) in order to guarantee the safe and appropriate disposal of these hazardous materials, including computers, monitors, circuit boards, batteries, cabling, and televisions.

RCR&R was founded in 1995 and has a mission is to provide cost effective and safe environmental solutions for the disposal of outdated or broken technology products. RCR&R focuses on three methods of disposal: Reuse, Recovery, and Recycling.

Our goal for this field trip was to acquire information for students and staff regarding where our eWaste goes and how it is handled.

Why Should We Recycle eWaste?

Electronic equipment contains metals and toxic materials that can be harmful to human health and the environment if they are not properly managed. If these technologies are disposed of in landfills then destructive metals such as cadmium, lead, and mercury can be leached into the soil or burned and be released into the atmosphere.

What Happens to Our Electronics After They Are Delivered to RCR&R?

Colgate’s eWaste is picked up and dropped off at the RCR&R facility where it is processed, broken down, and sorted. RCR&R either resells the equipment or recycles the unusable components by sending parts downstream to other companies that specialize in managing a specific component.

As a whole, eWaste has very little resell value due to the current technology boom. Many computers in the modern age become obsolete within a few short years, which makes reselling them at a cost effective price very difficult.

How Does RCR&R Ensure Electronic Parts They Sell to “De-Manufacturers” Do Not End Up in a Landfill?
RCR&R personally audits the primary and secondary companies that it sends its recyclable components to, to make sure that the downstream businesses dispose of the electronic waste correctly.  RCR&R is also R2/Rios certified which gives us confidence that our eWaste is being handled responsibly.

How does RCR&R dispose of plastic waste?
Although there is a limited market for mixed plastics, RCR&R compacts all of the plastic it receives from monitor, computer, and television housings and sells it to outside vendors who meltdown and reuse the plastic in their products.

If I decide to recycle my old computer, how does RCR&R provide me with data security?
All the circuit boards that RCR&R receives from computers or other electronic devices are personally put through a metal shredder that completely renders the circuit board useless. RCR&R also wipes the memory of any circuit board they receive that erases all the data on the drive. These boards are still very likely to be placed in the shredder afterward.

How many pounds of eWaste does Colgate produce per year?
Between June 2008 and June 2010 Colgate produced 38,566 lbs. of electronic waste not including devices collected from the student body.

Also, the interval between May of 2008 to February of 2009 shows that Colgate forwards roughly 1,900 lbs of eWaste to RCR&R each month. This 1,900 lbs only includes devices purchased by the university.

How can we help recycle eWaste?
Colgate has an electronic waste center at the COOP (second floor in the elevator alcove outside of the dining center) and 16 other locations around campus to help students sort and identify items that are considered “electronic waste.” These locations simplify the process of disposing of your eWaste in the most responsible way.  Students and faculty can recycle batteries (wrapped in tape), iPods, cameras, cellphones, CDs/DVDs, cables, ink cartridges, lightbulbs (wrapped in newspaper), and larger electronic equipment such as laptops or printers.

For more information visit the RCR&R website at www.eWASTE.com and for further questions about eWaste at Colgate email Colgate’s Office of Sustainability at sustainability@colgate.edu.

Want to learn how to recycle eWaste at Colgate?  Check out this two minute video by Sustainability Office intern Liza Solberg ’14.

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