Nominated by Robert J. Mason
Though they are concerned about the problem, some of our best-informed students, faculty, and staff have little idea about what does—or should—happen when they dispose of their old electronic equipment. Underappreciated as it is, electronic waste presents one of the most pressing materials management issues of our time, one with local, regional, national, and global dimensions. In an ideal world, national protocols would have been in place years ago. But they are not, making the role of institutional leaders—such as colleges and universities—all the more critical.
Temple University has taken a very enlightened approach to e-waste. Its life-cycle management program is an exceptional model for other institutions, as well as a basis for developing comprehensive state and national e-waste management plans. This is how Temple’s program works: first, all computer purchases incur a fee of $50. This revenue stream funds the Computer Recycling Center (CRC). E-waste—computers, monitors, printers, scanners, and other items—is collected by the CRC. Most of this equipment is collected from campus offices and residences, though more materials from affiliated off-campus users may be collected in the future. The collected materials are then either refurbished by the CRC or recycled at a local facility.
In recent years, more than 50 percent of materials were refurbished and distributed within the university and surrounding communities. More than 50 off-campus equipment donations have been arranged in the Philadelphia area, most of them averaging approximately ten computers per donation. At the front end of the electronics life cycle, an energy-star mandate is being implemented for all university equipment. The CRC operation is a very efficient one, working with a modest staff and low overhead costs.
Ask most students and faculty at Temple University what happens to their old computers and the likely reply is a) I don’t know, b) it’s in the basement, c) we put it in the department storeroom, or d) it’s shipped to China. The good news—and news that we all can be proud of—is that Temple’s Computer Recycling Center (CRC) has been working since 2003 to ensure that computers and other electronic equipment are managed sustainably, safely and economically.
The CRC has pioneered a comprehensive life-cycle approach to e-resources, one that embraces sustainability’s triple bottom line. First and foremost, environmental quality is promoted by making every effort to reuse computers, monitors, printers, and other electronic equipment. When reuse is not feasible, then recycling is practiced. Recycling takes place at a facility in Camden, New Jersey; e-waste is not shipped overseas. As has been well documented, reuse and recycling significantly reduce overall energy and materials consumption. Moreover, at the front end of the electronics life cycle, an energy-star mandate is being implemented for all university equipment.
Equity also is central to Temple’s program: low-cost computers are made available to students and staff—in many cases, to individuals who otherwise could not afford to own their own equipment. The CRC has developed relationships and programs with a range of community organizations, donating equipment to those in need. Local jobs are supported by Temple’s support for regional-level recycling and local non-profit organizations.
While Temple’s CRC cannot eliminate planned obsolescence, it does a remarkable job of efficiently managing an ever increasing flow of electronic equipment through the University and nearby communities. The CRC has a full-time director, one additional full-time employee, and a variable number of student workers. University purchasers are assessed a $50 fee for new equipment—and the environmental and social returns on that small investment are enormous.
Underappreciated as it is, electronic waste presents one of the most pressing materials management issues of our time, one with local, regional, national, and global dimensions. In an ideal world, national protocols would have been in place years ago. But they are not, making the role of institutional leaders—such as colleges and universities—all the more critical. Temple University, through its CRC, has taken a very enlightened approach to e-waste. Its life-cycle management program is an exceptional model for other institutions, as well as a basis for developing comprehensive state and national e-waste management plans.
Since 2003, Temple’s Computer Recycling Center has collected over 23,000 pieces of equipment, 40 percent of it computers, 41 percent monitors, 12 percent printers, and the remainder consisting of scanners and various other items. Thirty nine percent of all equipment, and 53 percent of computers specifically, were refurbished for use within the university and surrounding communities. Sixty-one percent of all collections went off-campus for recycling; this total includes 47 percent of computers and 67 percent of monitors collected.
The trend in recent years has been toward more reuse and less recycling. In 2008, 55 percent of all equipment collected was refurbished, with 45 percent recycled. Recycling takes place at a local facility in Camden, New Jersey; the work is not done out-of-country. Students and staff purchase computers, monitors, and printers at very modest prices, with much of the equipment going to those particularly in need.
While needs-testing is not a part of the internal distribution program, it has become evident that those who purchase equipment from the CRC by-and-large are among the more needy. In order to optimize benefits across the university community, limits of one order per semester are imposed upon individual purchasers. Within the local and larger communities, a variety of organizations receive equipment. More than 50 equipment donations have been arranged, averaging about ten pieces of equipment each (with some individual donations much larger). Recent equipment recipients include Philadelphia schools (via Temple’s Office of Partnership Schools), local churches, the Mount Airy Learning Tree, and an Africorps program in Ghana. In some instances, Temple provides training as part of a larger effort to create jobs and promote lifelong learning in its surrounding communities. Areas adjacent to the university, designated by President Ann Weaver Hart, are given highest priority.
This is part of a larger effort to enhance the university’s relationship with surrounding communities, and to reduce urban sprawl and energy consumption by encouraging faculty and staff to live close to campus. At the front end of the electronics life cycle, an energy-star mandate is being implemented for all university equipment.