Composting and industrial recycling

compostingComposting

[no author]
Penguin, March 2009, $19.95

Composting is a brief but very practical, hands-dirty, guide to turning garden waste, food scraps and waste paper into the kind of soil that will have your plants moaning in ecstasy as they grow a mile a minute. As the authors say, it isn’t rocket science and there are no hard and fast rules. Anything organic will rot if you leave it long enough, and learning about composting is simply learning how to make the process work better for you and your garden.

If you just want to put lawn clippings on the garden beds, fine. If you want to buy a bokashi bucket to keep in the kitchen, fine. If you want to make a worm farm, fine. If you want to establish a hot-compost heap and turn it every week, that’s fine too. Composting points out that many people evolve a mixed system for dealing with waste and when I looked at our own household to check, I counted nine different paths we use to convert green stuff into good soil or dispose of what we can’t use. Our system makes the most of our resources with the least possible time and effort but it was never planned, it just grew. The garden does, too.

cradle-to-cradleCradle to Cradle

Michael Braungart and William McDonough
Random House, April 2009, $24.95

Cradle to Cradle applies the composting model to industrial design. Continue reading “Composting and industrial recycling”

Recycling our e-waste

Our high turnover of tech gear (phones, TVs, computers, etc) is responsible for a correspondingly high quantity of worryingly toxic waste cascading into our rubbish bins and thence to landfill. I wrote about the issue eighteen months ago when a Southern recycling company laudably took the trouble to visit Townsville but the topic is worth revisiting now, especially since we have just enjoyed Christmas and are consequently about to enjoy (if that’s the right word) disposing of old stuff to make room for our presents. (How long does the transition from favourite gadget to junk take, anyway? Longer than ripping off some wrapping paper?)

e-waste infographicAs it happens, a second e-waste recycler contacted me a couple of months ago to see whether I would post their infographic here but I couldn’t find time before Christmas to do so. Here it is now – just click on it to see a larger version, or right-click (control-click) on it to download one – and here’s what they told me about themselves:

PC RECYCLERS is an e-waste collection and recycling company, helping Australian organisations do their part for the environment. Based in Brisbane, the PC RECYCLERS team offer free collection of e waste to schools, businesses and organisations throughout Queensland and nationwide. For specific e-waste recycling services such as computer recycling, PC RECYCLERS provide free data destruction to Department of Defence 5220.22M standards with disposal reporting. For more information on their services or to organise a free collection in Townsville or the wider NQ area, visit www.pcrecyclers.com.au

Now that’s all fine, and I don’t mind giving them a plug for it, but we still have a problem at the household level: they offer, “free collection of e waste to schools, businesses and organisations,” and I don’t think my household qualifies as any of the above. Do we have to get (for instance) NQCC to organise a community collection? Could we suggest that our nearest school does it? In return for a donation, maybe?

There are obviously strong possibilities here for groups with initiative but each of them will only collect from a small percentage of households so we are still only intercepting a small percentage of our e-waste. This is clearly a work in progress – but at least it is now in progress.

More information

The PC RECYCLERS chart lists website references but you can’t just click on them and they are a bit old anyway. These links (all updated Dec 2019) take you to the organisations the chart refers to but not to the same documents:

E-waste collection in Townsville

We throw out a lot of junk. Some of it peacefully decomposes without any further impact on the environment but some of it is quite toxic. One particular category is both highly toxic and, ironically, full of valuable materials: junked technical gear, or e-waste. That gives us two good reasons to dispose of it as thoughtfully as possible. An excellent article on Gizmodo begins:

The brand new tablet/smartphone/GPU you grabbed last week is the cat’s meow. But what happens to it – or to any of the devices you once treasured- when you don’t want or need them anymore? Where do they go? Is there a reliable, “green” way to dispose of them? And hey, does one extra electronic gadget in a landfill really put the big hurt on the environment?

Let’s start simple by looking at one of today’s most ubiquitous electronic gadgets, the mobile phone or smart phone. … The mobile phone is far from green. Indeed, it houses a lot of stuff you certainly wouldn’t want to sprinkle on your cereal. Stuff like copper, gold, lead, nickel, antimony, zinc, beryllium, tantalum, mercury, arsenic, and coltan (more on coltan in a moment), among others.

There’s a whole bunch of stuff not to like about the way we deal with our old and unloved electronics. We toss way too much of it. We recycle some of it, but even then the machinery behind that recycling is flawed and we’re only beginning to understand the dangers that come from the hazardous materials that lay inside. Changes are afoot, but the evidence of an apathetic past and present, like the e-waste itself, is piling up.

And let’s not forget – not all unused products are immediately given the heave-ho. Consumers tend to stockpile stuff they don’t use any longer. Admit it – how many old game consoles or mobile phones or laptops or TVs or cameras or CD players, Walkmans, record players, spare monitors are sitting around your house right now because you’ll either use them again one day (fat chance), or because you just don’t know what to do about it?

That last paragraph describes my position so well that they must have peered into my cupboard!

Seriously, disposing of old tech stuff without sending it straight to landfill can be difficult, especially if you’re outside the big cities. Last time I tried, I rang and emailed around to try to do the right thing. Our only computer recycler wouldn’t take anything that wasn’t relatively new and commercial-grade; no city council department could help; local waste recyclers didn’t take e-waste; and Brisbane e-waste recyclers didn’t have any way to get my junk from here to there.

Right now, people in Townsville have a one-off chance to do the right thing with their techno-rubble, since a Brisbane company is coming to us for one day: Buyequip is holding another

Electronic Waste Recyclathon

at 3 – 7 Macrossan St, South Townsville,
between 9.00 and 3.00 on September 7, 2012.

On the day, they will be accepting the following electronic waste:

  • Computers – laptop and desktop
  • Monitors – LCD and CRT
  • Printers and scanners
  • Computer peripherals – power supplies, networking equipment, cables, etc.
  • Telephones and mobile phones (but not televisions or whitegoods)

Buyequip is an award winning End of Life IT Services organisation dedicated to preventing electronic waste entering our landfills. More than 98% of the materials collected on the day will be diverted from the landfill waste stream.
If you are keen to attend, please email Suzie Bowen suzie.bowen@buyequip.com.au or call her on 0488 331 662 . They look forward to seeing you on the day!

More information:

The Gizmodo article recommends a Greenpeace study [Edit: updated here in 2017] that ranks the most dominant tech producers in terms of their environmental footprint.

Afterword

The day came, and I took a couple of boxes of our e-waste down to South Townsville. The operation there was simplicity itself: one container on a vacant block, two people, a clipboard so people could leave their names and contact info (presumably for next time). By the time I arrived, the container was about half full and there were boxes on the grass beside it, waiting to be stacked inside.

old computers in containerold computer gear in container

The Green Thing

This arrived in my email a few days ago (thanks, Margaret!) and I think it’s worth sharing:

In the line at the supermarket, the cashier told the older woman that she should bring her own grocery bag because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. The woman apologized to her and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”

She was right, that generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.

Back then, they returned their milk bottles, soft drink bottles and beer bottles to the shop. The shop sent them back to the factory to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over.

But they didn’t have the green thing back in that customer’s day.

Back then, they washed the baby’s nappies Continue reading “The Green Thing”