University partners with Ann Arbor Public Schools for annual e-waste recycling event

Sunday, May 8, 2016 - 4:53pm

The University of Michigan’s Office of Campus Sustainability partnered with Ann Arbor Public Schools for the University's annual e-waste recycling event — which aims to help community members dispose and recycle electrical or electronic devices — Saturday in Pioneer High School’s parking lot.

The annual event began in spring 2008, around the same time the Climate Savers Computing Initiative — a campus campaign aimed at promoting sustainable computer use — and Sustainable Computing program began at the University. Since then, events have collected 1,792 tons of e-waste.

The events are open to anyone who wants to recycle his or her e-waste, including non Ann Arbor residents.

E-waste specifically refers to any discarded electrical or electronic devices, including cell phones, televisions, stereos and wires. Last year, the United Nations Environment Program referred to it as the fastest growing waste stream in the world. A study in 2013 estimated a 33 percent growth of e-waste worldwide by 2017, about 72 million tons total.

Incorrect disposal of e-wastes can create serious health hazards, especially in developing countries, where developed countries often dump their e-wastes. Many electronic gadgets contain toxic metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium, which can seep into the ground and contaminate water sources. Exposure to such toxic metals can cause damage to the nervous systems, kidneys and bones of both adults and developing fetuses. 

MaryBeth Stuenkel, University Information and Technology program manager and a volunteer at Saturday's event, said recycling e-waste is not only a way to reduce the amount that ends up in landfills or water, but it's also a way to reuse valuable resources for new electronic products without harming the environment. For example, producing one ounce of gold requires mining and processing seven to 11 tons of ore, but gold can also be extracted from e-waste.

“It’s a double reason to recycle (the e-waste),” Stuenkel said. “They are dangerous to the environment plus they are valuable resources that can be reclaimed and reused. That benefits the environments in another way — if you have gold from recycled materials, then you don’t have be mining for gold.”

Stuenkel said the most common items people recycle at the events are old television sets. Unfortunately, these television sets do not contain as much precious metal that can be recycled as computers do,  according to Stuenkel, adding that old televisions comprise mostly of plastic and glass.

Stuenkel also mentioned that she and rest of the University’s Sustainable Computing program were surprised by the increasing turnout of e-waste recycling in Ann Arbor since 2008, with the number of cars attending increasing from 3,548 in 2010 to 7,000 in 2015.

“When we started doing this in 2008, we expected the number of cars dropping off the waste to taper off,” Stuenkel said.

The collected e-waste will be shipped to Chicago, where Sims Recycling Solutions will shred the waste and collect metals and other parts that can be recycled and reused.