Lead, mercury, and barium can kill you, but they can also make checking your email in the UCen a lot easier. As long as you don’t drop dead trying to keep in touch, who cares anyway?
Roughly 800 computers with those elements in them are disposed of every year at UCSB, and where they go after they have lost their welcome on campus can make a big difference.
Decommissioned UCSB computers and furniture are sent to Central Stores, the department charged with disposing of excess and surplus property. From there, the computers meet their fate in chemical processing plants or grade school classrooms, but thanks to active recycling efforts, not the county landfill.
According to Furniture Services Supervisor Jeff Goldman, computers are first put up for sale to the highest bidder and eventually donated to charities if a buyer is not found.
“Pretty much all the computer recycling goes through us,” Goldman said. “Any extra computers that the departments want to get rid of, we put on racks out on sale. If nobody will buy them, we separate them and take them to MarBorg’s Recycling.”
Most of the computers given to MarBorg’s Recycling are in working order but are not appropriate for the university’s needs, MarBorg Industries Business Manager Derek Carlson said. MarBorg finds homes for the working computers within Santa Barbara County and ensures that the nonfunctional parts are disposed of safely.
“We have a partnership with the County Board of Education where we donate old computers to them and they in turn refurbish the computers and load on a very basic software package,” Carlson said.
The computers are then put into classrooms and computer labs across Santa Barbara County or given to children in those classes who cannot afford home computers.
Over 1.5 tons of computer parts and monitors are disposed of every year at UCSB. Relative to the rest of the UC system, however, that number is actually very low, UCSB Recycling, Refuse & Integrated Pest Management Manager Mary Ann Hopkins said.
“One point five tons is a big truckload of computers, and that’s not too bad for a campus this size. I think that’s because we got a lot of really hot people that got us on computers that were top notch and updated and they kind of thought ahead,” she said. “The other UCs just don’t have the same stats as we do – we’re doing the best.”
Although computers are not classified as hazardous items, toxins in their monitors and circuit boards pose a serious health risk to humans and animals if improperly handled. MarBorg delivers unusable computer parts to chemical companies that extract and dispose of the toxins, Carlson said.
“The majority of the toxins are in the monitors, which have a lot of lead in the cathode tubes,” he said. “All the monitors given to us that are broken are basically given to chemical companies who extract the lead from the them. We give them all of our computer waste and they recycle everything for its material value-the plastic, the lead, the mercury, all of that.”
The computer recycling policy has made significant advances in recent years. Virtually no used computers make it to the county landfill anymore, Goldman said.
“When I first worked here six years ago we were allowed to throw monitors away, whereas now we’re not; it all has to be recycled,” he said. “We can’t throw hardly anything away anymore.”
Since 1993, UCSB has seen a 48 percent increase in the amount of solid waste diverted from landfills. In 2000, UC Berkeley recycled 18 percent less trash than UCSB, Campus Recycling and Refuse Services Manager Lisa Bauer said.
According to Hopkins, 6.45 tons of telephone directories, 190 tons of newspaper and 21 tons of aluminum were recycled in 2000. If Campus Stores and UCSB Design, Construction & Physical Facilities deem that the used furniture is in decent condition, they often find new homes in other countries.
“The last classroom we did there were hundreds and hundreds of blue-chaired desks, and we sent them to an elementary school down in Mexico,” Hopkins said.