Volume 74, Number 36 | January 12 - 18, 2005

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Old computer keyboards were dropped off at Union Sq. last Sunday for recycling, as the Lower East Side Ecology Center collected more than 10,000 pounds of electronics.

Electronics recycling program makes a connection

By Jefferson Siegel

In the middle of January, some environmentally friendly spring-cleaning was taking place in Union Sq. on Sunday. The Lower East Side Ecology Center set up shop at the northwest corner of the park to collect used, unwanted electronic equipment for recycling.

The event, held several times a year, was hosted by the Department of Parks and Recreation. Christine Datz-Romero of the L.E.S. Ecology Center walked between a tableful of volunteers and a tractor-trailer that was rapidly filling with computers, cathode-tube monitors and other detritus of today’s electronics-obsessed society.

As a volunteer passed by carrying a large computer monitor, Datz-Romero noted that these screens in particular were “a huge problem.” Citing rapid advances in technology, Datz-Romero said people and corporations were upgrading their computers from the large, heavy tube models to thin, light, energy-efficient flat screens. The result is uncountable tons of glass, plastic and, especially, lead and arsenic waste. These monitors and other electronics take up only 1 percent of the volume of total waste but contribute an astonishing 40 percent of toxins found in landfills, she said.

The Ecology Center has held similar recycling events for two years now. Most recently they are working with the Department of Sanitation, which receives funding from Dell Computer specifically for electronics recycling. Sanitation, in turn, chose the L.E.S. Ecology Center to implement a program to get New Yorkers to contribute.

At the volunteer table, Shannon Stone of the NYC Waste Prevention Coalition commented on the problems with exporting waste rather than recycling it. Noting that Toronto and San Francisco have adopted “zero-rate” waste-export guidelines, she said in New York the Sanitation Department is willing to recycle 70 percent of recyclable waste by 2015; however, Sanitation currently has no plan in place to implement that schedule, she said.

The NYC Waste Prevention Coalition has crafted a Zero Waste Campaign, encouraging all New York State municipalities to draft their own solid-waste plans. A zero-waste plan, Stone said, is a necessity because the cost of exporting waste out of state has risen 90 percent since 2000. “We need more help in persuading the government,” she said.

As she spoke, people continued to approach the table, laden with shopping bags full of computer keyboards, mice, clock radios and fax machines. One man walked over carrying a large TV set on his shoulder. Cars drove up to disgorge their contents; one had a trunk full of monitors and a back seat full of computers. Volunteers carried the materials to the waiting truck, where workers loaded them onto large pallets and wrapped them in plastic wrap for the trip to Supreme Computer Recycling in Lakewood, N.J.

Toward the end of the day, Datz-Romero estimated that between 200 to 300 people had dropped off items, weighing approximately 10,000 pounds and filling 10 pallets.

The Ecology Center’s last Downtown recycling event was in the fall at the Little Red School House on Bleecker St. They plan to return to Union Sq. for Earth Day in April.

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