The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Posted: 2009.11.04 in General
Tags: ,

When I first started to collect laptops for my project, it was with giddy anticipation that I thought I could create something from nothing for my own personal use.  I didn’t give too much thought to what I was going to do with the equipment I might have left over, but I only ever considered giving back to those who donated hardware of their own accord, and to the Freecycling Community that was supporting me.

I was actually very impressed with the work completed on the show Junk Raiders, which debuted on The Discovery Channel.  (Wikipedia link.)

Junk Raiders

Their show centered around doing what seemed to be the impossible: create a downtown Toronto loft out of an older industrial unit, and build and furnish it using only Freecycled material and a bankroll of five-thousand dollars for “urban professional” clients.  Nearly everything came from hard work, from the framing and walls to the final result, and I was completely impressed with what they pulled off.  Surely if they could build an entire loft from cast-off materials, anyone should be able to reuse, or even repurpose, older equipment to fill a present-day need!

In the past, I thought about selling off my old, unused computers and electronics, but I quickly recognized that there was no real market for old, outdated hardware, as even a glimpse of the pages upon pages of computers and equipment on E-Bay will tell that story quite well.  Previous generations get little-to-no respect, often going for a tiny percentage of their worth, regardless of the fact that they still might be worth something to somebody.

E-Bay Computers For Sale

I was always disappointed when I put up a piece of computer hardware at a fair price, and received few – if any – bids, or even interest!  There is simply too much of a glut out there, that people are likely not even reading your ad anymore.  So, in this endeavour especially, I decided that E-Bay was not the answer.

What I didn’t realize is that by recycling your electronics, you might not only be helping others to get something that might be of use to them, but you might also help save lives in the process.  I’m not talking about the environmentalist issue of “everything we keep out of a landfill helps to save the environment”.  I’m speaking of the issue of health and safety that affects those people who’s job it is to actually recycle this hardware.

From an MSNBC Article, located here, I read a very disturbing quote:

“While there are no precise figures, activists estimate that 50 to 80 percent of the 300,000 to 400,000 tons of electronics collected for recycling in the U.S. each year ends up overseas. Workers in countries such as China, India and Nigeria then use hammers, gas burners and their bare hands to extract metals, glass and other recyclables, exposing themselves and the environment to a cocktail of toxic chemicals.”

Now, I understand that the numbers being presented may simply be an estimation by environmental activist, but the fact that workers are disposing of hazardous materials with substandard methods and equipment is simply scary.

“Many brokers claim they are simply exporting used equipment for reuse in poor countries. That’s what happened in September, when customs officials in Hong Kong were tipped off by environmentalists and intercepted two freight containers. They cracked the containers open and found hundreds of old computer monitors and televisions discarded by Americans thousands of miles away.

China bans the import of electronic waste, so the containers were sent back to the U.S.”

From a post on the Ontario Ministry of the Environment Website, located here, it offers a very good suggestion when dealing with electronic waste:

“The first thing we should always think about when discarding something is whether there’s a worthy cause that could make use of it. School, charities and other non-profit organizations are usually a good choice.”

Reading further, I also noted that they also have a warning, and one that seems to echo the sentiments of MSNBC:

“There are also private companies that recycle computers. There’s a caveat here: Choose computer recycling companies wisely because some of them send equipment to countries where recycling is cheaper because fewer safeguards are in place. Do your research. We’re no better off if we protect our own environment at the expense of the environment in other countries.”

There’s a lot to think about when it comes to recycling your old electronics.  In weeks past, my Wife and I took some old construction waste to our local waste management facility, and I walked across to look at a pile of old electronics that they had piled up.  I was immediately stopped by an Employee, who told me that I wasn’t permitted to go through it.  I was quite surprised, as I had been to other facilities previously, and they allowed you to take from the stock, but I was informed that, because this was a private waste management facility, that they recycle the old electronics themselves.

Translation: That pile was worth money, and no, you cannot touch it.

When you are looking to dispose of that older television, computer or electronic device, I would personally recommend looking into locally run options first, rather than running your older equipment off to the local dump.  Obviously, I recommend www.freecycle.org as your first step, but also look into donating your electronics to schools, shelters, or even community groups.

I guarantee that there are no end to the options available when you are looking to donate.  In the end, you are helping somebody out, helping yourself, and helping us all in the process.

The DurhamDev Official Signature

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