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!

 

 

BPA-Free Receipt Paper

Last year we saw a series of news stories on how our gas station receipts were toxic because of “BPA.” But it didn’t stop there, receipts from the ATM, the grocery store, at the mall and at the library also contain BPA. [BPA Receipts Bombshell (CBS); Cashiers May Face Special Risks From BPA (Science News); Another Reason You Don’t Need Your Receipt (U.S. News & World Report)]

BPA, Bisphenol A, is a chemical that has been “used for more than 40 years in the manufacture of many hard plastic food containers such as baby bottles and reusable cups and the lining of metal food and beverage cans, including canned liquid infant formula. Trace amounts of BPA can be found in some foods packaged in these containers.” [1]

The Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry has stated that “when it comes to BPA in the urban environment, “the biggest exposures, in my opinion, will be these cash register receipts.” [2]

The man-made chemical has been shown in scientific experiments to mimic the hormone estrogen, and government reports in the US have, in the past, expressed relatively minor concern about exposure. However, the fact that BPA is found everywhere – in a study conducted in2009 by the US Health & Human Services Department it was found in 93% of all test subjects’ urine – the saturation of the chemical in our environment – and our bodies – has become a larger concern.

So large, in fact, that in September 2010 Canada officially declared BPA toxic. BPA is now on their toxic substances list based on concern about possible risk to fetuses and babies

Last year I came across an article about the Eugene Public Library which reported that the library had switched to BPA-free paper:

“When deciding whether to make the costly switch — the BPA-free paper costs 5 percent more — library staff members said they used the city’s “triple bottom line” standard, which assesses the best decision based on environmental, social and fiscal costs.[emphasis mine]The conclusion: Switching was the best option.

Looking ahead, the library hopes to make paper receipts a thing of the past.”

Bravo Eugene!!

An even bigger “Bravo!” to Multnomah County, also in Oregon, as they actually realized a cost savings through switching to BPA-free:

“Jeremy Graybill, marketing and communications director for the library, estimates it will save between $1,400 and $3,200 through its switch to BPA-free paper this fiscal year.

Graybill said it is tough to pinpoint the exact savings that will result from the change, since the library has yet to move through a whole year of inventory. But the library uses about 8,300 rolls of receipt paper annually, mostly as hold slips to direct patrons to books they’ve ordered. In its previous fiscal year, the library spent $10,000 on receipt paper. At the low end, the projected savings from the switch looks to be at least 14 percent.” [3]

So take a fresh look online or call your current receipt paper supplier, prices have come down on BPA-free paper throughout 2010 and I expect this trend to continue.

Make the switch, it’s the right thing to do for your staff and your patrons.

“2010 County Sustainability Strategies”

Came across this publication from the National Association of Counties (NACo) as I started to think more about the implications of what I read in the Urban Libraries Council’s recently released publication focused on public libraries and local governments.

Highlights from the NACo’s 2010 County Sustainability Strategies publication:

  • The most important benefit counties are realizing from sustainability efforts is cost savings.
  • “Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Generation”, and “Waste Management” are the most common sustainability efforts counties are pursuing.
  • Thirty-four percent of the responding counties identified that they have a staff position to coordinate green efforts.
  • County sustainability coordinators are spread out across several different county departments, with the highest concentrations in County Administration, Operations, Environmental Protection, and Planning and Development.
  • Overwhelmingly, funding is the most significant challenge inhibiting counties from accomplishing all sustainability strategies. The second most cited challenge is staff time.
  • If given the opportunity, the majority of respondents would further invest, in order of priority, in (1) Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Generation followed by Waste Management; (2) Green Building Construction/Renovation, and Water Conservation/Reuse; and (3) Green Purchasing, Local Food Systems, and Green Economic Development.
  • In general, counties in the West and Northeast Regions are pursuing all sustainability strategies with greater intensity than South and Midwest counties.

The word “library” does not appear at all in this report. BIG opportunity here folks!

Toy Recalls

TheDailyGreen does a nice job of promoting the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s toy recalls. I point this out because I routinely shudder at some of the items libraries purchase as Summer Reading Program “incentives.” Libraries seek items for kids to encourage reading over the summer and end up buying mass quantities of junk (IMHO). My first tip is to avoid buying such crap but if you do, be aware of this site so you can alert parents of your SRP kids should something you’ve purchased end up on the CPSC list…

Green Team Saves Us Money

Very cool thing happened this week as a result of starting the Green Team @MHLS – we’re saving money already.

Our organization is in some dire financial straits after five cuts in two years from New York State and thanks to the fact that NYS has released just 50% of our funds and we’re in the 9th month of our fiscal year. Not fun.

Our interim director and business manager have done a super human job of cutting back, freezing spending and keeping “the ship afloat” so far. I was able to show that a number of the ideas we came up with on the Green Team would save us operating costs (upgrades to the lighting, new windows, etc.) But we’re in such a tough spot that even relatively small investments ($1,500 for the lighting) are out of reach right now.

But the collective mind proved to be stronger than the individual once again as more of my coworkers got thinking about things they are involved with.

  • Our discussion about getting a water cooler that was less of an energy hog has resulted in the negotiation of not only a better water cooler but the company is waiving the lease fee.
  • In talking to the person in our business office about what logos to look for on paper and other office products to make sure they are as environmentally responsible as possible we poured over the office paper catalog and I longingly pointed to the FSC paper which was more expensive than what we were currently purchasing. She said  “I can get better prices than these” and she did. We’re now paying even less than we were before on a more environmentally responsible choice.

I’ve said a number of times what  great experience the Green Team has been but to finally see cost savings, even minor ones, AND good choices being made is really rewarding.

“Are Commercial LED Replacements Ready for Prime Time?”

Article from ecogeek.org:

“Although we are big proponents for LED lighting, the US Department of Energy has recently issued a couple of reports warning that many so-called replacement lamps for fluorescent fixtures are not performing at adequate levels. In most cases, fluorescent tubes are still a better choice, providing more lumens per watt than most LEDs. Although LEDs may eventually replace many other lighting options, they aren’t a magic bullet just because they’re LEDs. You should be careful and find out more about them before making the switch.”

Turn ‘em Off or Leave ‘em On?

Ever have this discussion with someone? Is it more energy efficient to leave lights on or turn them off?

Some speculate that the “start-up” energy it takes to turn on lights is more than it would take to just leave them on, others contend that of course you’d shut them off! Even if you’re just dodging out of your office to visit the WC?

The US Department of Energy weighs in:

Incandescent Lighting

Incandescent lights (or bulbs) should be turned off whenever they are not needed. Nearly all types of incandescent light bulbs are fairly inexpensive to produce and are relatively inefficient. Only about 10%–15% of the electricity that incandescent lights consume results in light—the rest is turned into heat. Turning the light(s) off will keep a room cooler, an extra benefit in the summer. Therefore, the value of the energy saved by not having the lights on will be far greater than the cost of having to replace the bulb.

Fluorescent Lighting

The cost effectiveness of turning fluorescent lights off to conserve energy is a bit more complicated. For most areas of the United States, a general rule-of-thumb for when to turn off a fluorescent light is if you leave a room for more than 15 minutes, it is probably more cost effective to turn the light off. Or in other words, if you leave the room for only up to 15 minutes, it will generally be more cost effective to leave the light(s) on. In areas where electric rates are high and/or during peak demand periods, this period may be as low as 5 minutes.

Fluorescent lights are more expensive to buy, and their operating life is more affected by the number of times they are switched on and off, relative to incandescent lights. Therefore, it is a cost trade-off between saving energy and money by turning a light off “frequently” and having to replace the bulbs “more” frequently. This is because the reduction in usable lamp life due to frequent on/off switching will probably be greater than the benefit of extending the useful life of the bulb from reduced use. By frequent we mean turning the light off and on many times during the day.

A 2008 article in Scientific American gives you license to turn off the lights:

A simple rule of thumb that balances both concerns is to shut off fluorescents if you’re planning to leave a room for more than five minutes, according to Francis Rubinstein, a staff scientist in the Building Technologies Department at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division. Mary Beth Gotti, manager of the GE Lighting & Electrical Institute in Cleveland, agrees. For all practical purposes, “it almost always makes sense to turn the lights off,” Gotti says. “From an environmental standpoint, the best way to save energy is to turn off the things that you’re not using.”

Rubinstein notes that, even for fluorescents, the cost of electricity over a bulb’s lifetime far outpaces the cost of the bulb itself. “Even if you switch on and off a fluorescent light frequently,” he says, “the slight reduction in lamp life is a small effect relative to the energy savings you accomplish by being a good citizen.” Gotti adds that the reduction in lamp life from frequent on-and-off switching can often be counterbalanced by the extension of “calendar life”—the actual passage of time between lightbulb replacements—that results from using the bulb for fewer hours.

“What does it mean to “be green”?

Nice, concise summary from Tufts University’s Office of Sustainability:

Being green is a commitment to:

1. discover best practices
2. innovate when solutions don’t exist
3. reduce waste and inefficiencies
4. adopt and embrace new habits
5. measure and celebrate progress.

You do these things every day; now try doing them with a green lens.