Full Circle, Part 5: WeRecycle!
This is the fifth entry in "Full Circle," a series that will be profiling companies and organizations that offer biodegradable and recyclable products or services -- both in the New York City area and beyond.
Pieces of gold shine through a sea of motherboards gathered as the result of several computers being run through a "shredder" at a WeRecycle! facility. The gold will later be collected and smelted to be used in other products. Photo courtesy of WeRecycle!.
So you have an old laptop that has essentially become a giant paperweight as you’ve moved onto a sleeker model. Such a device contains a.) many components that are hazardous to the environment (batteries, mercury lamps, etc.) and b.) personal information that could be revealed if in the wrong hands. So what do you do with it?
Well, one option is to visit the website of WeRecycle!, a company based out of Mount Vernon, N.Y., that specializes in e-waste disposal both at the private business and residential levels. The company’s site contains an area where a visitor can type in his or her zip code and find out about nearby collection events and locations. For example, those interested can drop off that old laptop at any New York City Goodwill store as part of an arrangement that WeRecycle! set up -- and take comfort in knowing that their data is being disposed off in a safe and secure manner.
“A lot of times people say, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so much of a hassle. I should just throw it away in the trash’ and there are so many things that can happen to it just in terms of data security,” said WeRecycle! representative Lauren Dykes.
Although the company was founded in 2003, Dykes believes that her organization is just scratching the surface in terms of getting New Yorkers to donate their unwanted electrical waste instead of tossing it in the trash. The company has recently partnered with organizations such as the Lower East Side Ecology Center to offer several events throughout the city to raise awareness of its services. What is a common response from first-time donators? In the words of Dykes: “I’ve got four printers in my closet. I live in a studio in Brooklyn and I don’t have room for that, but I don’t know what to do with it.”
Pallets full of used electronics tower outside of a recent WeRecycle! collection in New York City. Scenes like this have become quite common as more and more New Yorkers discover the service. Photo courtesy of WeRecycle!.
In addition to laptops and printers, Dykes said that old CRT monitors (the big clunky ones) and large non-flat screen TVs are also common donations -- some of which contain up to 10 harmful pounds of lead each. The task of handling and dismantling those electronics and materials have recently lead to the creation of several jobs within the company. In fact, Dykes said that in 2011, WeRecycle! had a 46 percent increase in full-time employees.
WeRecycle! started in Meriden, Conn., but later moved its headquarters to Mount Vernon in 2008 when it was purchased by NYC-based Hugo Neu. The company has two facilities in Mount Vernon, with a third scheduled to open later in the spring. It also still has a facility in Meriden. The company currently is a state-approved electronic recycler in Connecticut and New York in order for retailers to comply with the disposal ban on electronics in those two states.
WeRecycle! expanded its reach into Pennsylvania at the beginning of this year with the passing of a new law that allows residents to recycle used electronics for free. Although New Jersey has similar legislation as the other three states, the company currently has no similar arrangement with the Garden State.
And where does all that e-waste go? After being disassembled, it is put in a device simply known as a “shredder,” which gobbles up electronics and spits them out into various sorted streams of materials such as plastic, aluminum, circuit boards and wires and cables.
“Sometimes people just think that you’re just scraping it, that’s there’s no value and that there’s no real process or anything like that and they don’t necessarily understand the whole [process],” Dykes said.
Have you donated any electronic waste to WeRecycle! or a similar organization? If so, we’d love to hear from you.
Computer towers await their fate in the "shredder" at a WeRecycle! facility. Photo courtesy of INKA Original Photography.