Islanders recycle electronics
After the sixth iteration of Electronics Disposal Day, Steve Beck is beginning to wonder where Islanders have been hiding all of their junk.
"I can't believe there's still that much left," he said surveying a shipping container overflowing with computer monitors, dishwashers, televisions, microwaves, and a diverse collection of other electronic castoffs. "The Island has to be two inches higher out of the water."
Held this past Saturday at Martha's Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) in Oak Bluffs, the twice-annual event raised money that will go towards upgrading the organization's technological equipment. Mr. Beck, a consultant for MVCS and a Marshfield resident, organizes similar events throughout New England, which benefit a variety of nonprofit organizations. "We target groups that take it in the chops when budget cuts come," he says.
Due to the cost of transporting waste from the Island, Mr. Beck estimates that about 50 percent of the money raised from the sale of scrap, which has been as high as around $13,000 in years past, will make its way to charity.
"In Massachusetts alone by the end of November we'll be up to $2 million that we've raised," he said.
Some of the more unusual items in this Saturday's catch included a variety of sonar and radar machines, the occasional antique Macintosh and a bulky Blood Coagulant Analyzer from the hospital.
"One year we got a veterinary x-ray machine, which we weren't supposed to take," Mr. Beck said. "The next thing I knew we're getting a call from the EPA saying 'You moron!' So we had to cart it back to the Island."
For some, parting with their gadgets can be a wrenching process. "I just feel so bad," said a mournful Julia Burgess, director of the MVCS. "It was such a great microwave. It really conked out, but it was the best microwave I ever had."
The next stop for all this electronic refuse is Brockton, to a recycling center where it will be sorted. Salvageable parts are used across the country, and throughout Canada, and the rest is crushed and sold for construction material. For example, crushed plastic can be mixed with asphalt to improve highway surfaces.
Special care, however, must be taken with certain items, especially cathode ray tubes from old televisions and computer monitors that contain significant amounts of lead. These items must be disassembled by laser and scraped clean of their toxins.
Other computer monitors enjoy a second life in Haiti, where some will be shipped and refashioned into televisions.
For the Martha's Vineyard High School football team, who spent the day stacking and moving discarded appliances into the shipping containers, the day provided an opportunity to give back as well as an unorthodox strength training session.
"It's good for the kids to help out with something like this," assistant football coach Jason O'Donnell said. "They're able to get out a little destructive energy - although they can't break anything."
"Oh, it's wonderful," Ms. Burgess said. "We're so grateful for all the help we've got from the football players and all the others who helped with the event." For example, Tom Seeman, owner of Vineyard Bottled Waters, spent the day helping people transport electronics from their homes who could not otherwise do so on their own.
"It's become a tradition," continued Ms. Burgess, who plans to continue the popular event in the future.
Mr. Beck agrees. He was caught off-guard by the program's initial popularity and the seemingly endless stream of electronic waste Islanders produce.
"The first year we filled four of these shipping containers and we had to borrow two additional moving trucks," he said. "I didn't expect it. The line was about 30 cars deep into the street."
As this year's procession of cars slowly petered out on Saturday afternoon, an impressive heap of technology was left in the MVCS parking lot. A translucent blue-plated iMac, a model once perched at the pinnacle of home computing vogue, peered out from a heap of similarly obsolete scrap, like some kind of desktop Velveteen Rabbit. Thanks to electronic recycling, however, these artifacts of our modern lives need never disappear, and perhaps the same monitor will be broadcasting the evening news from Port-au-Prince a year from now.