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!



“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.

Green Team Meeting #2

Today was our second Green Team meeting and it went really well.

  • We reviewed the benchmark data gathered since our last meeting:
    • electricity usage in both buildings
    • gas consumption for both buildings
    • paper recycling levels
    • solid waste recycling levels
  • Options for providing safe drinking water for staff and guests were reviewed in light of the decision to stop providing serving bottled water – bottleless water cooler option looking very attractive (not to mention a lot cheaper than what we’ve been doing). Decided we needed to think about it more and will revisit this at our next meeting.
  • Reviewed the results of our complimentary lighting audit done for by a consulting firm that works with our utility company. I need to double check the numbers but it looks like we could completely convert our lighting in the office building to T8s, get a 50% rebate from our utility AND payback the remaining cost through energy savings in 1.21 years. Not to mention the on-going savings after that.
  • Then came the fun stuff. Over the past three weeks we challenged our coworkers to come up with “green” ideas. Anything goes – that was the only parameter! I received 130 ideas! I’ll share the best ideas in a later post but just wanted to say that at this stage the act of asking everyone had so much benefit:
    • Staff buy-in for change
    • Revelation that some were unaware of existing recycling and energy saving rules already in place building-wide – really made us think about how we convey the rules and how staff are oriented to the way things should be done
    • Behavior is already starting to change – more people are turning off lights in unoccupied offices and rooms, more people are using ceramic mugs rather than disposable cups for coffee…
    • Excitement that they can help the System save money by changing how we do things – people were so anxious to help, it was wonderful
  • Next steps identified:
    • Codify existing rules related to recycling and energy savings and create a staff web page so people can reference the info – things like what is recyclable, who is responsible for turning off lights, making sure everyone is turning off computers/monitors at the end of the day…
    • Create tip sheet on reducing paper use based on the input from staff gathered over the last month
    • Work with the Computer Operations Department to audit all computers and printers in the building to make sure they have basic energy saving settings in place and to develop how-to info for people that want to adjust the energy saving settings
    • Use input from staff to create a checklist of things they can personally do to reduce energy consumption
    • Develop a staff education event to orient them to the building, how they can play a part in reducing, reusing and recycling

So for those of you in our member libraries – the Business Office won the MHLS Go Green Challenge – they came up with twice as many ideas as the other two floors. Doris, our receptionist, was the champ, I got more ideas from her than anyone in the building! Go Green!

Thin Clients

Learn about thin clients – they are a great solution for public access computing/networks in libraries as most patrons are not doing intensive computing, just surfing, typing, social networking, etc.

They are “green” because they:

  • use less electricity
  • require less equipment
  • take up less space
  • once set up, they are easier to administer

Just my opinion …

The future of cloud computing

The Pew Internet & American Life Project released a new report on June 11, 2010: “The future of cloud computing

“By 2020, most people won’t do their work with software running on a general-purpose PC. Instead, they will work in Internet-based applications such as Google Docs, and in applications run from smartphones.”

What will this mean for libraries? Some possibilities:

  • Less servers = smaller electric bill for the library
  • PCs purchased for patron use will not be configured the way the PCs we are buying today are; may possibly be just a box and monitor connected to the internet = cheaper hardware, less manufacturing
  • Size of PCs can diminish, taking up smaller footprint in library space
    • the report predicts that “the desktop will not die out but it will be used in new, improved ways in tandem with remote computing
  • Apps for smartphones from the library (catalog, databases, library’s web site) = digital library will take on new and different forms, people using services and facilities in different ways
  • Robust broadband connection = more, more, more
  • More power outlets for charging laptops/smartphones = design considerations
  • Software licensing a thing of the past? Open source options (Google Docs, Linux, etc.) meet the needs of patrons without costing the library = staff training issues, budget impact?
  • More to come… I’m sure!

“Let Green Creep”

Check out two great articles that came out in May, one written by Louise Schaper, the other a Q&A with her:

Louise is the former (now retired) director of the Fayetteville Public Library (AK). She spearheaded one of the first LEED libraries in the country and in recognition of her achievements Fayetteville was named LJ Library of the year in 2005.

In the Let Green Creep article Louise speaks to the issue of greening operations, not just a facility. It is an important lesson to be “green all over,” to not let greening end once your building gets its certificate of occupancy but to really live green in a green building.

Greening Presentation for Onondaga County Public Library 5.7.10

Signage & QR Codes

At the LJ Design Institute last week a question from the audience got me thinking – the question was whether or not using digital signage, specifically LCD panels, were an energy efficient option and a waste reducing option (the idea being less paper would be used to announce programs, etc.)

The hive mind in the room came up with the answer that LED panels would be more energy efficient than LCD, that yes, it would reduce the amount of paper used and that there was a definite hip factor to the application of digital signage in libraries.

It got me thinking about something I heard at the PLA Conference at the Top Tech Tips panel discussion about QR-Codes – these cute squares of connection can be used by owners of smartphones to link to more information. Evidently stores use these, posting them by the front door so customers can connect with sale information or the online version of the store through their phone.

Libraries could make use of these as well for program announcements, posting of hours, board meetings or build them into a program – thinking of something like a scavenger hunt using clues found through the QR-Codes….

For now you can play with QR-Codes using this free QR-Code generator.  Stick one in your email signature, post one on your library’s front door and gauge reaction – as more patrons use smartphones the more potential there is to connect virtually with them.

40 Tips for the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day

Tomorrow is the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, to mark the occasion I am doing a Greening Your Library workshop for my member libraries and have brainstormed the list below:

40 Easy Ways to Go Green @your library for the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day

1.       Establish a “Green Team” at the library to brainstorm ways the library could be greener

2.       Develop a recycling policy for your staff (paper, plastic, cardboard)

3.       Ask the board to pass a green policy that encourages and validates the exploration and investment in energy saving and resource saving options

4.       Create a routine maintenance plan for major systems (roof, HVAC, etc.)

5.       Create a building plan to predict timelines for long-term goals –  replacement of HVAC, roof, expansion plans – this will give you more time to find green options

6.       Recycle bins for paper next to printers (for staff and the public)

7.       Purchase recycled paper for printers and copiers

8.       File as much as you can electronically rather than in paper files (be sure to have an offsite back-up solution and schedule!)

9.       Add a footer to your email signature that urges people to think twice before printing out an email message: “Please consider the environment before printing this email”

10.   Recycle bin for plastic and glass in the staff break room and meeting rooms

11.   Encourage staff to eliminate the use of plastic water bottles at work

12.   Offer an enewsletter option

13.   Turn off lights in offices and meeting spaces not in use

14.   Only purchase ENERGY STAR computers/appliances

15.   Do not water the grass

16.   Use native plants in your landscaping so you don’t have to water them extra.

17.   Recycle book sale donations that don’t sell

18.   Recycle printer cartridges

19.   Appropriately dispose of e-waste (computers, monitors)

20.   Use Century Gothic font (it uses 30% less ink when printing than Arial)

21.   Turn off all equipment (copies, printers, computer towers and monitors) at the end of the work day

22.   Use “smart” power strips to cut off power completely when equipment is off

23.   Use the energy saving features through your operating system to put computers into standby/hibernation

24.   Turn down the temperature on the hot water heater

25.   Wrap the hot water tank with insulation to reduce heat loss from the tank

26.   Green the cleaning – purchase “Green Seal” cleaning products

27.   Use biodegradable soap in the bathrooms

28.   Only purchase formaldehyde free furniture

29.   Use low-VOC paints in the library

30.   The next time you replace your vacuum, get one with a HEPA filter

31.   Plan story hour crafts that can use recycled paper, cardboard, “found items,” etc.

32.   Invite a local walking or cycling group in to do programs at the library

33.   Partner with local environmental groups in your community to do programs at the library

34.   Offer a program on energy efficiency incentives from the state and federal for homeowners

35.   Highlight books from your collection that help families go green (green cleaning, eating locally, energy efficient home ideas)

36.   Encourage families to “turn off” (the TV and computer) and hang out together at the library

37.   Have the library property assessed for geothermal and solar placement.

38.   Schedule an Energy Audit to get professional recommendations to reduce energy usage in your building ($100) Usually available through your state energy authority

39.   Get your hands on a Kill-a-Watt to discover ways to cut back your electricity bill (we got one to share with our member libraries)

40.  Get your hands on a thermal leak detector to discover air infiltration in your building (we got one to share with our member libraries)