Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.
It is no secret that the climate is not in the best shape right now, to say the least; polar bears are almost endangered, CO2 levels are 35% higher than preindustrial times, and waste is collecting at ever increasing rates. If you’re not already helping, I’m sure you have wondered at least once how you can aid in mitigating this problem. Hosting an e-waste collection event might not be the first thing that pops into your head, but might I suggest that you consider it. E-waste events can be incredibly beneficial to the environment because they can help keep toxic chemicals from going where they are not supposed to and they can also help your neighbors get rid of some old stuff and maybe even some guilt from holding onto that old stuff.
There are a couple aspects to an e-waste collection event that you should consider to help ensure success. The first thing to do, and probably one of the most important aspects of the event, is making a connection with a credible recycling company. Things to look for in a good recycling company are that they first try to reuse as much equipment as possible before they scrap it. Also make sure they can ensure the absolute safety and protection of information in computers they receive. The recycler should be able to give you some sort of written confirmation saying that every hard drive received at the event will be wiped or taken apart in some way. It is important that you find out exactly what the recycler does with the equipment they receive, so ask questions. Even if the recycler has the equipment to disassemble the electronics on site, they probably still have to ship certain things away (like CRTs) so be sure to ask where that equipment goes. As I have mentioned in a previous post, certified “e-stewards” are companies that have committed to being responsible according to the “e-steward” criteria, so that could be a good place to start when you need a recycler, but there are also a number of other responsible recyclers not on that list.
As for the rest of the event, there are a few other things to consider. One is making sure that the police and town know what you are up to so that you can get their advice on traffic control and ask them what kind of a presence they wish to contribute. Another is picking a location. Of course you want to have something central and easy to get to but also factor in that there might be a lot of traffic backup so make sure there is enough space so cars can line up. Churches, parks, or school parking lots are usually a good option. Also make sure you have a truck to move the equipment and enough volunteers to help you manage the equipment. I suggest at least ten volunteers.
Another thing to consider is advertisement. Radio announcements, posters, ads, or telling a friend to tell their friends are all great ways to get the word out about your event. I suggest that you start a couple weeks in advance but really buckle down the week leading up to the event and advertise as much as possible. The demand to get rid of the equipment is out there, you just have to make your cause known.
Hilary Nixon, of the University of California, Irvine, has been studying the best ways to conduct a recycling event. She has performed surveys all around the state of California to look at how much people would pay to responsibly get rid of their e-waste, how far they would travel, and their willingness to give away their e-waste in general. According to her and her colleague’s findings, 63% of the people surveyed were willing to drop off their e-waste. So as long as you advertise sufficiently you should not have too much trouble getting the traffic you need to make the event worthwhile.
In your advertising make it clear what you are accepting or not accepting. For instance, some recyclers do not have the equipment to manage certain electronics like batteries or refrigerators, so you need to let people know what to bring or not bring ahead of time. Also make it very clear where, what day, and from what hours you will be hosting the event and sometimes it helps to let people know what you are doing with the equipment.
At the actual event you will need most of your volunteers taking the electronics out of cars so that people can get in and out of the event as quickly as possible. At a collection event I was recently involved in we also had about 4 or 5 people taking items from people in cars and about 2 others talking to the people dropping off their equipment. We asked them a couple simple questions to learn more about the problem of e-waste, like how far they came, what they had, and the reason they were getting rid of it. You cannot require that people answer these questions, but any information you get can be very helpful to recyclers or others in the field of e-waste management. At that past event we also performed on site hard drive erasing. I felt that this was especially reassuring to the people donating and it was helpful to have that completed early on.
Finally, the last piece of advice I have to give is that I think the difference between just a smooth event and a hugely successful event is food. In my experience, happy volunteers that are not hungry make for happy events overall.
Good luck with your endeavors and feel free to comment with any differences of opinion, questions, or experiences you care to share.