Most of us take for granted some or all of our home collection of a computer, monitor, printer, television, stereo, DVD player, VCR, cell phone and small kitchen appliances. Have you ever wondered what happens to all that e-waste when it is discarded? Well, it takes a village to recycle all that e-waste, and the Ojai Valley is lucky enough to have many environmental partners in our “village.” For eight years the Coalition has partnered with E. J. Harrison & Sons and Gold Coast Recycling & Transfer Station in Ventura. They assist us financially (the City of Ojai is also helping fund the 2016 event), and they furnish the manpower and wherewithal to collect and recycle tons of materials at our annual E-waste Event. Our partners at Ojai Community Bank and Ojai Valley Directory help us with the local logistics and marketing.
The cooperation doesn’t stop locally because Gold Coast's partner, e-Recycling of California (ERC) is the one that sees that all those discarded electronics are actually broken down, sorted and either reused or disposed of in a legal and safe manner. Not an easy task or a simple industry, ERC’s core business with End-of-Life (EOL) recycling of used electronics uses a combination of manual and mechanical processes. With three plants, one each in Hayward, Irvine, and Paramount, ERC dismantles electronic waste into marketable by-products to be used in re-manufacturing closed loop recycling.
Their website states, “ERC employs environmentally conscientious processors dedicated to zero waste at our California plants. We recycle over seventy million pounds of electronic waste annually. We are committed to the safe and environmentally sound dismantlement of all electronic waste for our employees, our clients, and our community.” Pretty impressive!
Henry Nixon, an environmental consultant for ERC, explained that ERC was one of the twelve founders and first adherents of BAN (Basel Action Network) created in 1997. Nixon, the son of a scrap metal dealer out of the U.K. settled in L.A. and got involved with the environmental end of the family business on his own, recycling metals at a timely period in California. He has consulted for companies including Yamaha.
According to Nixon, ERC and the organization create strategies for proper waste treatment. They view waste as an international problem that needs an international solution with full transparency. “Now at ERC everything is broken down into its bare components, pulled apart and everything is used or disposed of properly…a very small amount is sent to a landfill.”
Nixon says innumerable influences create change like new technologies or the fluctuating price of oil affecting the market for these materials. “If we had this discussion a month ago I could have said there is no problem with glass (the screens that cover all those electronic devices), but just last week one of the last glass re-smelters recyclers in the world, in India, was shuttered. It will be dealt with now in a properly sealed landfill…until they come up with another process, another way to use it. There has been talk about using it on roads, for example.”
ERC sells to the Belgian company, Umicore. On its website Umicore states, “As a materials technology company active in the specialty chemicals sector, we have defined three environment-related objectives as part of our strategy: reducing our carbon emissions, reducing the impact of our metal emissions and improving our understanding of the life cycles and impacts of our products.”
That last statement “improving the life cycles and impacts of our products” is something the OVGC would like you to consider. The concept can be an incentive and goal for all of us. It’s explained and illustrated by a short documentary from the folks at another nonprofit, The Story Of Stuff Project. “The Story of Electronics”, one of their films, is worth checking out. New concepts are presented aimed at reducing the amount we need to recycle at the source. The terms and the design principles they represent are already being implemented in Europe and Asia. Externalization extended producer productivity, or product take back and modularization both represent a challenge for designers to green their products and design to last - not design for the dumps - and both terms are explained clearly in this film.
Let’s take up the educated consumer’s call for better design for the products we buy in the future. Tighten the recycle loop and we can all use a little less in the years ahead. For now the Coalition helps make recycling e-waste and other hard to recycle items easier with its annual collection event happening this Saturday, January 9.