Proper Gadget Disposal

Librarians are a tech-saturated lot. My friends with the most gadgets, who are the most tech savvy are librarians (with an honorable mention to my non-librarian husband!). In the past two years I’ve seen an interesting (and wonderful) trend in my library system – patrons are seeking out help with their gadgets at the library. eBooks, smartphones and tablets are being brought in under the guise of “how do I download an eBook on this thing?” and the next thing you know, library staff are assisting with basic functionality issues with the device.

It is part of our professional know-how landscape to be up on these gadgets and to understand how to provide online library services in gadget friendly ways. However, as exciting as these times may be we have an environmental stewardship issue here that we can help impact.

The rate at which new versions of each gadget are released is causing a significant amount of device turnover. Some people trade up for newer versions, some are just tossing the old for the new.

Innovation and deflation are the watchwords of the consumer electronics industry. Even as the latest designs and technologies are released to the market, improvements are already being planned or manufactured. That innovation lowers costs is most spectacularly seen in this industry. As electronic gadgets become more sophisticated, they actually fall in price, instead of rising. This results in users upgrading their gadgets every few years or multiple times in a single year. What happens to the old gadgets is becoming a serious problem as the years pass. [The Gadgets Blog, June 2011]

The amount of e-waste generated in this world is staggering (US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

  • Over 3 million tons of e-waste is generated each year
  • The vast majority (82.3%) of e-waste discarded in the U.S.  is still ending up in our landfills and incinerators
  • 17.7 percent  of e-waste goes to recyclers

Electronics typically contain many toxic chemicals,  like lead, mercury, beryllium, cadmium, arsenic, and halogenated flame retardants in the plastics. These can seep into our water supply when they breakdown in landfills, particularly in older landfills with no lining. When they end up in in an incinerator these chemicals are being released into our atmosphere.

Our personal first step is to question our true need of each gadget before purchasing items for ourselves (as evidenced by comments to the shared link, “Ditch these 10 Devices in 2012,” on Sustainable Libraries’ Facebook page) but after the almost inevitable purchase of at least one device we will reach the end point of that gadgets’ useful life – either in its usefulness to our lives or in its functional capacity.

Product Stewardship
Look into whether or not your state has passed legislation related to “product stewardship,” or “takeback programs.” Here are some well known takeback and e-recycling programs:

If you don’t have one of the big electronics retailers near you or your device’s manufacturer doesn’t offer a takeback or recycling program call your municipal or county’s solid waste management department. Often they will host events to manage recycling e-waste as a community.

Beware e-recyclers visiting your town: do your homework. 60 Minutes did a great story a few years ago on how some recyclers just ship e-waste overseas where it is not properly handled and is polluting water, soil and air in those countries. Check out Basel Action Network’s e-Stewards program and ask the recycling hauler coming to your town if they are a “Certified e-Steward Recycler.”

If you’ve taken the time to do this research, share it with your community, campus and school!




Steve Nygren, one of the founders of Serenbe, a “conservation community,” in Georgia, was the luncheon speaker at the Library Journal’s 2010 Design Institute in Atlanta, GA on April 30, 2010. Due to technical difficulties his time was cut short but even in the short time he was given he managed to capture me from start to finish.

I had this ridiculously huge grin on my face throughout the presentation as he described what has to be one of the most well thought out community development projects in America, if not the world.

“Serenbe’s ultimate goal is to demonstrate how development can accommodate the need for housing with minimal
impact on nature—Serenbe’s land plan call for a preservation of at least 70% of the acreage, while
accommodating as many or more people as traditional subdivision-style development, which would
disturb nearly 80%.”

Thoughtful design of housing, landscaping, forests, food and – at the core of it all – a community.

“Serenbe is 1000 acres; at least 70% will always be preserved green space. geo-thermal heated buildings
This market sells organic & local goods, including produce from the Serenbe Organic Farms Next door, the Blue Eyed Daisy Bakeshop is the smallest Silver LEED certified building in the nation Walkability: everything in Serenbe is connected via a walking path All homes are EarthCraft Certified Native plants & organic landscaping (no lawns = no chemicals) Underground trashcans sort trash, recycling & compost Serenbe: Green at a Glance outdoor lighting regulations = clear, starry skies”

There is a “trash concierge”: homes have in-ground trash receptacles where color-coded bags for recyclables, trash and compost are discarded. Instead of a noisy dump truck rolling by every week, this garbage is picked up by a “concierge” on a golf cart. The compost is used as fertilizer on the farm. Others are taken to a recycling center or a city landfill. [from an article in]

While blown away and hungry for more – one thing struck me… there was no mention of a library in the community…

5 Ways to Make Computing Greener in your library

  1. Make it a library policy that all computers and monitors – public and staff – are shut down at the end of the work day. Use a Smart Strip Surge Protector to completely cut off power to peripherals when a computer is turned off.
  2. Make use of the power management settings (standby and hibernate) through your operating system; go a step further and check out EZ Wizard Power Management Tool recommended by the U.S. EPA 
  3. Only purchase ENERGY STAR rated computers and monitors.
  4. Redesign your public access computer network using a thin client model (example: Userful)
  5. Dispose and recycle responsibly. Research options by calling your town/city’s recycling center.

Bonus Round: Keep your eye on cloud computing opportunities – there are an increasing number of options – cost effective options – that could reduce the number of servers needed in your building and your reliance on purchasing software. Examples: Gmail for Organizations (keep your address, drop your physical email server) & Google Docs

When a Bulb Breaks (CFLs)

Because compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) contain a small amount of mercury, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends the following clean-up and disposal guidelines:

1. Before Clean-up: Ventilate the Room

  • Have people and pets leave the room, and don’t let anyone walk through the breakage area on their way out.
  • Open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes or more.
  • Shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system, if you have one.

2. Clean-Up Steps for Hard Surfaces

  • Carefully scoop up glass fragments and powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
  • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
  • Wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes and place them in the glass jar or plastic bag.
  • Do not use a vacuum or broom to clean up the broken bulb on hard surfaces.

3. Clean-up Steps for Carpeting or Rug:

  • Carefully pick up glass fragments and place them in a glass jar with metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag.
  • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining small glass fragments and powder.
  • If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken.
  • Remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister), and put the bag or vacuum debris in a sealed plastic bag.

4. Clean-up Steps for Clothing, Bedding, etc.:

  • If clothing or bedding materials come in direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from inside the bulb that may stick to the fabric, the clothing or bedding should be discarded.  Do not wash such clothing or bedding because mercury fragments in the clothing may contaminate the machine and/or pollute sewage.
  • You can, however, wash clothing or other materials that have been exposed to the mercury vapor from a broken CFL, such as the clothing you happened to be wearing when you cleaned up the broken CFL, as long as that clothing has not come into direct contact with the materials from the broken bulb.
  • If shoes come into direct contact with broken glass or mercury-containing powder from the bulb, wipe them off with damp paper towels or disposable wet wipes.  Place the towels or wipes in a glass jar or plastic bag for disposal.

5. Disposal of Clean-up Materials

  • Immediately place all cleanup materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area for the next normal trash pickup.
  • Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing clean-up materials.
  • Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area.  Some states prohibit such trash disposal and require that broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a local recycling center.

6. Future Cleaning of Carpeting or Rug: Ventilate the Room During and After Vacuuming

  • The next several times you vacuum, shut off the central forced-air heating/air conditioning system and open a window prior to vacuuming.
  • Keep the central heating/air conditioning system shut off and the window open for at least 15 minutes after vacuuming is completed.