Keeping Austin From Getting E-Wasted

A local school and area activists step up their efforts to recycle electronic waste

Obsolete computers and other electronics are loaded on trucks at the Waldorf School for recycling.
Obsolete computers and other electronics are loaded on trucks at the Waldorf School for recycling. (Photo By John Kirkilis)

By the time you finish reading this, new versions of your computer and most of your electronics have probably been released. Technology's staggering progress has created an even more staggering excess of discarded electronics, including an estimated 500 million obsolete computers nationwide by 2007, with gadgets like cell phones, TVs, and gaming systems close behind. These components are loaded with toxic chemicals linked to birth defects, brain damage, and cancer, which escape into the water and air when dumped in landfills or incinerated. Thanks to grassroots efforts, many opportunities to recycle your old electronics exist either through manufacturer take-back programs, at places such as Goodwill, or through local collection efforts, but experts agree much more must be done.

Taking a step forward, the Austin Waldorf School in Oak Hill held an e-recycling drive last weekend, collecting everything electronic. "Two years ago, we collected over three tons of electronic equipment. Almost everyone we've talked to has a pile of old computer parts in their garage," said Eric McCune, president of the student council. The school partnered with Austin-based e-recycler Round2 Technologies, which processes nearly 10 million tons of discarded electronics per year. Spokeswoman Becky Harwell said the Waldorf drive collected enough stuff to fill a 53-foot trailer. She emphasized Round2's view that the obsolete electronics aren't waste at all but a commodity, detailing their efforts to keep reusable technology in the marketplace and reclaim valuable components and metals through manual demanufacturing done at their facility. "None of the electronics or components we handle go to landfills," Harwell said.

On Earth Day, April 22, Round2 will hold another e-recycling drive at the headquarters of Austin Flash Memory manufacturer Spansion, at 5204 E. Ben White, 9am-noon. (Or, old electronics can be brought directly to Round2, at 6301 E. Stassney during business hours, where staff will unload and even pay you for the goods, if possible.)

Texas Campaign for the Environment, famous for goading Dell to ramp up and reform its recycling efforts, was demonstrating at the Barton Creek Mall Apple Store Tuesday, in support of a nationwide Computer TakeBack Campaign effort urging Apple to accept and recycle all its old products, in addition to the iPods it currently takes. As part of the Take Back Your Mac Day of Action, the groups are also urging Apple to stop lobbying against producer takeback recycling legislation, recently passed in Maine and Washington state in March 2006, which they say is supported by Dell and Hewlett Packard. Better recycling opportunities and stiffer rules will help slow the rapid flow of e-waste to developing countries where it is often improperly and dangerously handled and dumped. For more information see www.texasenvironment.org.

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