Office of Sustainability Launches E-Waste Collection Program

Harvard’s Office for Sustainability has placed clear, blue, e-waste collection tubes in over 50 locations across campus. The new program strives to increase the degree to which Harvard students recycle smaller, handheld e-waste from laptops, batteries, chargers, and phones that is harder to keep track of than the larger waste already collected by building managers and other personnel.

Until now, students, faculty, and other members of the Harvard community have had to submit their smaller e-waste to building managers for proper disposal. The new collection program seeks to imitate e-waste recycling efforts that already exist at the Harvard Divinity School that seek to eliminate the middle man in the recycling process by having easily accessible collection receptacles that quickly fill up with laptop batteries, old phones, and other hazardous waste.

“The small, white buckets in building manager’s offices weren’t really conspicuous or noticeable, but we’re hoping that the blue tubes are much more visible and accessible,” said Akshay M. Sharma ’14, freshman yard captain for the Resource Efficiency Program, an undergraduate program under the Office for Sustainability.

Once filled, the blue tubes are sent to a sorting facility in Allston where local students from Minuteman Regional High School organize the waste. The students are part of the Career Directions Program of the LABBB Education Collaborative, an initiative that seeks to provide career development skills to students with learning disabilities and developmental delays. In addition to e-waste sorting, the students also help the Office of Sustainability with the organization of books, clothes, and other donated goods, as well as the repair and reassembling of computers.

The toxicity of the heavy metals in batteries such as cadmium, mercury, and lead make it illegal to dispose of them in regular trash receptacles.

“If you don’t care about yourself, worry about the birds, bees, and people that are harmed because of contamination in landfills,” said Robert M. Gogan, Harvard’s associate manager for recycling services.

Gogan cited the precious metal content of these goods, and the potential to reuse them, as another reason for the program’s importance. Coltan, a material the mining of which is said to fuel the Ituri conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is used to make the tantalum capacitors used in many of the electronic devices collected under the new program.

“We need to start collecting the phones because it’s going to be a lot cheaper and better for the people of central Africa if we get Coltan for the new generation of cell phones from the last,” said Gogan.

According to Gogan, the e-waste recycling movement at Harvard is set to continue this month with E-cycleMania, a national competition in which Harvard will try to collect more e-waste than other universities. This year, the goal is to collect 500 pounds.

—Staff writer Indrani G. Das can be reached at idas@college.harvard.edu. Follow Indrani on Twitter @IndraniGDas.

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