Campus / News / January 14, 2009

Where do they go?

Recycling electronics can be a tricky thing. Old televisions and computer monitors contain cathode ray tubes (CRTs), which contain mercury, a chemical which according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) causes cognitive and respiratory impairment in adults and severe neurological and other problems in developing fetuses. In the past, many of the obsolete electronics coming from the United States were exported to China, where a workforce often comprised of child laborers would dismantle them, causing health problems for the workers as well as residents of the surrounding area as the mercury leached into the groundwater.

A series of rules passed by the EPA over the past decade have established complex and specific guidelines for the recycling and disposal of CRT-containing materials: simply sending them to China is now illegal. So what does Knox do with its old equipment instead?

The bulk of it is sent to Vintage Tech Recycling, an asset recovery and recycling company in Plainfield, Ill. A member of the Illinois Recycling Association since 1980, Vintage Tech Recycling removes the still-useful metals from the old equipment and sends what’s left to an International Organization for Standardization (ISO)-certified partner to be recycled legally. Last year, Knox disposed of 8,470 pounds of old equipment this way.

But before that, the campus gets a crack at it.

“Old equipment that is not in service is up for grabs,” said Computer Technician Craig Johnson. On some undisclosed day—think of it as Flunk Day for tech junkies—Johnson will send an e-mail to the entire campus telling them to come down to the Sharvy G. Umbeck Science and Mathematics Center to claim leftover scanners, printers, computers, and anything else that still works. With the presentation of a Knox ID, faculty, students and staff can haul away whatever they can use or donate—“within reason,” says Johnson—for free. The computer center removes any information from the equipment for security purposes, including operating systems, so whoever adopts the equipment will have to start from scratch.

“What people do with it afterwards, we don’t care, as long as they don’t end up in the dumpsters back at Knox College,” Johnson said.

For more information, visit http://www.vintagetechrecyclers.com/ and www.epa.gov.

Deana Rutherford


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