Reducing Use of Conflict Minerals: Electronics Recycling and Social Sustainability

Recycling and reusing electronics with organizations like GreenCitizen reduces the demand for more raw materials to be extracted from the earth in order to produce more new electronics. Besides reducing environmental degradation, this also reduces the use of conflict minerals – read on to find out why that’s such a big deal!

What are conflict minerals?

Conflict minerals are minerals that come from mines where the profit fuels conflict in Congo: tin, tantalum, tungsten, and gold. If you’ve seen (or know the gist of) Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, you can think of conflict minerals as being part of the same issues as the conflict diamonds in that movie. Conflict minerals are in components of all electronics.

In case you’re a techie interested in the inner workings of electronics, below are the electronic components conflict minerals are used for.

  • tin: solder on circuit boards
  • tantalum: capacitors
  • tungsten: interconnect material in integrated circuits, metallic films, electrodes
  • gold: electrical connectors and electrical contacts

Now, to note some technicalities:

-Except for gold, the above listed substances aren’t the minerals themselves; they’re the elements extracted from the minerals cassiterite, coltan, and wolframite, respectively. But when people talk about conflict minerals, they refer to the ‘3T’s and G’ highlighted above.

-When someone says “conflict mineral,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are actually using a mineral that they know is from Congo; they could be referring to a mineral that could come from Congo. For example, if a jewelry company says “we produce a product that requires the use of a conflict mineral,” they might mean that they are making jewelry that requires gold, which could be “conflict-free” (aka not from Congo).

More on the conflict in Congo

The eastern Congo has been at war since the early 1990s. Thus far there are over 5.4 million casualties, making this the deadliest conflict since World War II. This conflict also includes significant use of child soldiers and sexual violence towards women.

Most mines in the eastern Congo are controlled by armed groups. Civilians are often coerced into working at these mines, which the armed groups make hundreds of millions of dollars from.

Minerals are smuggled out of Congo through neighboring countries, like Rwanda and Tanzania. Then, they’re shipped to smelters around the world (primarily in Asia) for refinement, where they can be mixed with minerals not originating from the Congo before being used in manufacturing.

This video is also a great summary of the issues surrounding conflict minerals in electronics:

Conflict Minerals 101

What’s being done

Conflict minerals in electronics are (thankfully) a growing part of both the public’s and industry’s conscience. The Fairphone has sprung up, aiming to be a conflict mineral free smart phone, and Intel is now producing a conflict mineral free microprocessor.

However, as mentioned in the previous section, conflict and conflict-free minerals are currently frequently mixed in the smelting process, making it difficult to trace mineral origin in a final product. Efforts to require a more transparent supply chain will hopefully decrease this mixing.

 The 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act includes a section (Section 1502, if you want to look it up) that requires American companies to trace and audit their conflict mineral supply chains, and to work towards ensuring that their products are conflict-free. Companies must submit an annual conflict minerals report to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

What you can do

Raise Hope for Congo is an organization with great resources for getting involved in the fight against conflict minerals. For example, if you need to buy electronics new, you can buy them from a company that is working towards conflict-free mineral use based on Raise Hope For Congo’s company rankings. You can also become politically active, even by simply signing a letter, via one of the options provided on Raise Hope for Congo’s “Take Action” webpage.

 Additionally, make sure that you recycle your electronics! (Bet you knew I was going to say that.) GreenCitizen has just partnered with Bay Ink & Toner, Cartridge World, Cole Hardware, and Sports Basement to create opportunities to recycle in Fremont, Oakland, Sunnyvale, Walnut Creek, and more. Recycling helps the planet and the people on it.

 

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How to Handle and Dispose of Broken Light Bulbs

What to do with a Broken Light Bulb

Once your light bulbs burn out, we recommend you keep them safe from breakage in a cardboard sleeve or box prior to bringing them to one of our centers, or local recycling drop off spot. You can find out where to take your intact light bulbs using Earth911.com No mercury is released from lamps until they are broken. However, when they do break, the toxins are released into the environment. Because of this GreenCitizen cannot accept broken bulbs. If one of your lamps does break, leave the area immediately to avoid any dust created and allow vapors to dissipate for 5-10 minutes. When you return, don a pair of gloves and scoop up all the lamp fragments. (Do not use a vacuum cleaner!) Place this material in a sealed container, and wash your hands. Finally, take the container to a hazardous waste disposal facility. For more information, check out the EPA’s broken CFL instruction page.

Why Recycle Light Bulbs

At GreenCitizen, we recently started accepting light bulbs for recycling. Of course, recycling light bulbs is important. For one thing, the glass, metals, and other materials in light bulbs can be reused. Also, Halogen, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs,)  linear fluorescent, and high intensity discharge (HID) lamps contain trace amounts of mercury. In fact, these items have been prohibited from landfills in California and ten other states. Though many people think of incandescent bulbs as trash, they actually contain lead at levels that exceed hazardous waste limits.

Why Do We Use Bulbs Containing Mercury?

CFLs are significantly more sustainable than incandescent light bulbs, but they contain mercury. How can this be? CFLs are far more energy efficient and the mercury they contain is essential to this efficiency. Saving energy lowers the demand for electricity, and this leads to less coal burning in power plants. Mercury is found naturally in coal, and is released into the environment in large amounts through power plants. Using CFLs reduces mercury emission from factories enough that the small amount in the lamps themselves (4mg/CFL) is better for the environment.

Posted in Bay Area, E-waste, Electronic Recycling, Light Bulbs, Mercury, Tech/How-To, Toxic Waste | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

How and Where to Recycle CDs and DVDs

In most places, unfortunately, you can’t put CDs and DVDs into the recycling bin. So what’s an eco-conscious individual to do? While I’d love for you to read this entire post and gain a nuanced understanding of disc recycling, I will issue this spoiler alert: GreenCitizen recycles them for free at our drop-off centers and via mail-in! More details on that below, along with further insights into the world of CD/DVD recycling.

Why it Matters

While, on the bright side, we have folks like Beyonce now promoting digital albums before physical CDs, there are still a LOT of CDs that have been, and are still being, produced. According to an EPA fact sheet created over 10 years ago, about 100,000lbs of CDs (just CDs!) were becoming obsolete monthly. That’s a ton of discs piling up in dusty corners of our homes-or worse, our landfills-that could instead be given a new life.

What they are Made of

The main physical difference between CDs, standard DVDs, Blu-ray DVDs, HD DVDs, and any other type of DVD I forgot to mention, is the size of the teeny, invisible-to-the-naked-eye holes in them that constitute the code your CD/DVD player “reads” to play your media. All of these disc categories are made of the following basic components:

Polycarbonate: One of those many types of plastic with the #7 “Other” recycling symbol. (Fun fact: the construction industry is the second largest consumer of polycarbonates.)

Metal: Typically aluminum, but you could have silver, gold, and/or nickel thrown in there as well.

Laquer: The stuff that makes the CD shiny instead of transparent. Made from acrylic, another kind of plastic.

Ink: I.e., the artist cover printed on. You already knew that.

How they are Recycled

The discs are cleaned and grinded. They can end up looking like a powder, or the pieces can look a bit bigger, like the image below:

CDs

They can then be blended, compounded, etc. for many other items, like office equipment, cable insulation, jewel cases, and street light encasements.

How you can make sure they’re recycled!

GreenCitizen will accept both your discs and jewel cases for recycling at our free drop-off centers in San Francisco, Berkeley, Burlingame, Mountain View, and San Jose. We also have a mail-in program.

The CD Recycling Center of America has a mail-in program too: cdrecyclingcenter.org

As always, earth911.com provides an excellent recycling guide by zipcode for basically anything you can think of.

Finally, the internet’s chock full of ideas for creative reuse of old discs, with one example here.

We encourage further suggestions in the comment section!

Posted in Bay Area, Berkeley, Electronic Recycling, GreenCitizen, Mountain View, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Clara, Tech/How-To | Tagged , | 3 Comments

GreenCitizen Receives “Best For The World Award 2013” for its Electronics Recycling Efforts

GreenCitizen’s efforts in tackling the electronic-waste crisis have been recognized with the Best for the World Award 2013.

Best for the World Environment

The award is presented to the top 10% of all B-Corporations. The B-Corp or “Benefit-Corp” certification is to sustainable businesses what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk. B-Corporations are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. B-Corps can be described as for-profit organizations that benefit the environment and society.

At GreenCitizen, we make sure all the electronics we collect are recycled responsibly and locally. We only work with e-Stewards and R2 certified vendors ensuring nothing gets shipped abroad or dumped in landfills.

But we do much more than that. We put reuse before recycling. A staggering 25% of all the items we collect are put to reuse. We have a whole team of technicians testing and refurbishing computers, laptops, desktops, smartphones, iPads….and the list goes on and on. If there is a company that can find a new home for your old electronics it’s us! The profits we make are reinvested in opening electronics recycling drop off locations, where people from the community can drop off their old electronics for free and we make sure they are recycled responsibly. So far we have five locations in the Bay Area: San Francisco, Burlingame, Mountain View, Berkeley, and we just recently opened our new Eco-Station in San Jose. We can recycle anything that plugs in or runs on batteries. For a small fee we can also take Styrofoam, light bulbs, and tape based media.

 

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Christmas Tree Lights Not Working? We Got You: How to Recycle Spent Christmas Tree Lights

CHristmas lights

Another Christmas has come and gone and now it’s time to clean up. It’s that annual problem come the end of the holiday season: how to safely and responsibly recycle Christmas tree lights. Well luckily for Bay Area residents, GreenCitizen will accept them at any of our drop off sites in Bay Area (for free) and ensure they are recycled locally and in the most environmentally responsible way. We send them to the facility of Sims Metal Management in Redwood city, an e-steward certified electronics recycler. Sims then grinds the strings of lights up, separating the plastic and copper. 

Other novel ways of collecting and recycling Christmas tree lights are springing up in other parts of the country. The recycling association of Minnesota is providing jobs to the developmentally disabled through their Christmas tree lights recycling program and in the Chicago area, the program started by the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) expects to see further growth this year.

Inevitably, though a large amount of spent American Christmas tree lights still head to China. As Adam Minter, of Time Magazine, explains, the ability of facilities in China to operate at a lower overhead makes them a cheaper way of recycling these lights. Minter argues that despite lower health and environmental standards, it is still a net positive to the environment if the importation of broken Christmas lights can slow Chinese mining activities by providing another source for raw materials. GreenCitizen’s goal has always been to build local and accountable ecosystems for managing e-waste in the country where electronics are purchased and used. Minter would argue that you can’t fight the forces of globalization. Environmental problems and their solutions are often not clear-cut. What do you think is the best way forward? Leave your comments below.

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How GreenCitizen is Helping Businesses Reduce their Carbon Footprint

Screen shot 2013-12-11 at 4.00.41 PM (1)
GreenCitizen has calculated that, since our founding in 2005, our recycling efforts have prevented 12,000 metric tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere. That’s like taking 2,500 cars off the road for a year or planting 300,000 trees! Read on to learn how we made these calculations, and how they fit into the idea of a “carbon footprint.”

A carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions an organization, business or individual produces in their day to day activities. It includes everything from transportation to electricity usage and measures the direct emissions of gases that contribute to climate change. The most common greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, but gases such as methane and nitrous oxide, which are less common, have a greater impact on global warming. For example, methane’s impact on climate change, pound for pound, is more than 20 times that of CO2.

When a business or individual recycles their electronics with GreenCitizen, they are preventing their e-waste from ending up in a landfill, where it would emit harmful greenhouse gases as it rusts and decays. Recycling e-waste also reuses the precious metals found in electronics and lowers the demand for metal mining and extraction, an environmentally destructive carbon-emitting process.

The EPA has calculated the greenhouse gas emissions prevented when electronics are recycled rather than discarded in a landfill. When a business recycles with GreenCitizen, we use the EPA calculator to convert the total weight of electronics recycled to the metric tons of CO2 a business prevents from entering the atmosphere. Businesses can use our data to calculate how much their carbon footprint has decreased and to quantify the efforts they are taking to mitigate climate change.

If you are interested in calculating your personal carbon footprint, here’s a great resource from the EPA. GreenCitizen’s goal for 2014 is to double the amount of greenhouse gases we’ve prevented from entering the atmosphere. Help us achieve this goal by dropping off your electronics at GreenCitizen! We also do business electronics recycling pick-ups. Thanks for doing your part!

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So Many Types of Foam, So Little Time: Navigating Solid Foam Recycling

In a previous blog post, we announced GreenCitizen’s new Styrofoam recycling program. The program has been quite successful so far; since we began collection in May 2013, we’ve recycled over 30,000 gallons of Styrofoam! And now, with our recently opened San Jose/Santa Clara Eco Station, we can reach even more folks who want to recycle Styrofoam.

At GreenCitizen, we can only recycle white, unsoiled EPS-6 Styrofoam. We’ve had a lot of folks come to us with other types of solid foam. We wish our Styrofoam condensing machine could process these other types of foam, but since it can’t, we’ve searched for other options we could refer our customers (and you, readers!) to. Below, the results of our hunt:

Bottom line: Unfortunately, there currently aren’t many options for the average environmentally conscious citizen, but there are some options. Especially if you get creative.

Extruded polystyrene foam (XPS) and Polyisocyanurate foam:

Styrofoam

What it’s used for: These foams are technically different, but both are insulating materials.

How to reuse/recycle it: Contact construction companies in your area; some of them use recycled insulation for building and repairing homes.

Polyethylene foam (PE):

PE

What it’s used for: Usually, packaging and pool noodles.

How to reuse/recycle it:

-Some is marked as number 4 recycling (LDPE); this can be mailed-in via this program: http://www.recyclepefoam.com/ .

-It’s not clear who they accept material from, but this Canadian program is still worth mentioning! They use the foam for various applications, including sports fields and green roofs: http://www.3rfoam.com/

Polyurethane foam (Foam rubber):

Styrofoam 2

What it’s used for: Furniture padding, carpet underlay, athletic mats, kitchen sponges

How to reuse/recycle it: Interestingly, there is a PolyUrethanes Recycle & Recovery Council and an infrastructure for the business sector to recycle the excess/scrap polyurethane foam it produces in the manufacturing process. It can be ground into powder to produce new foam, rebonded for carpet underlay, or shredded and used as packaging or as stuffing for pillows and toys.

Outside of the business sector, you can:

-Make a pet bed by cutting/combining foam until you have the right size. If needed, you can sew together a pillow case or piece of fabric as an encasement for the foam. Then put a purrrrty blanket or the like over it. (Terrible pun, I know. But doggonit, it had to be done.)

-Get realllly ambitious and make a foam mattress. Perhaps for overnight guests? Instructions here: http://www.ehow.com/how_4809580_own-foam-mattress.html

-Call your local school/community drama departments. They might want to use the foam for stage props. (This suggestion goes for any foam, actually.)

Personally, I keep a small stash of foam bits for shipping things and for crafts. Well, now it’s small…I have a dark hoarding past…I didn’t want to throw anything away! But now, you and I have other options. Please share these tips with your friends and family, add more tips in the comment section, and be on the lookout for more GreenCitizen blog posts that aim to help you make every day earth day! And remember, you can still bring your white, EPS-6 Styrofoam to GreenCitizen for recycling at $5 per 30 gallon bag and your Styrofoam peanuts for free.

Posted in Bay Area, Berkeley, Burlingame, California, Climate Change, Electronic Recycling, EPS, GreenCitizen, Mountain View, Recycle, Recycling, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Clara, Styrofoam, Tech/How-To | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How (and Why) to Recycle your old CRT Television

CRT TV

Have a huge CRT TV lying in your basement taking up space? Drop it off at GreenCitizen for free and we’ll make sure it’s recycled locally and responsibly.

A CRT, which stands for Cathode Ray Tube, is a vacuum tube that contains an electron gun. The CRT deflects electron beams onto the screen to create images. However, since CRT technology has been displaced liquid crystal display (LCD) screens, CRT TVs have largely been become a space-consuming, potentially dangerous piece of outdated technology. CRT monitors contain toxic materials, such as Phosphor, Barium, Cadmium and lead. These toxic chemicals can cause birth, kidney, and brain damage along with many other things. It is illegal to throw away CRT TVs in the state of California because these TVs leak their toxins into the ground, poisoning our soil and ground water.

What should you do if you break a CRT monitor? First, check to see if the yoke has been broken. If not, then you are in the clear, and your TV is currently now more dangerous than it was when you bought it. If the yoke has broken, it will start to release lead dust, which is toxic. Put on a disposable dust mask, and sweep up the dust and broken glass into a plastic bag (make sure you double bag this to prevent any leaks). Please use earth911.com to find the closest hazardous waste department where you can recycle this bag of glass and dust. After cleanup, it is important to spay down the area and mop it up with paper towels.

A huge CRT TV recycled in GreenCitizen's San Francisco Center

A huge CRT TV recycled in GreenCitizen’s San Francisco Center

GreenCitizen can only accept intact CRT monitors; we cannot process broken ones. We separate the glass from the other components safely and reuse them. The leaded CRT glass can be recycled and melted and used in road construction! GreenCitizen offers convenient CRT recycling in all of our Bay Area locations: San Jose/Santa Clara, San Francisco, Berkeley, and Burlingame.

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Free Cardboard Recycling has come to the Bay Area! How and Where to Recycle your Cardboard in San Francisco

GreenCitizen Bay Area Cardboard recycling

Our handsome San Francisco assistant manager Abe McKay with some cardboard for recycling

In an effort to make GreenCitizen’s recycling services more convenient, we’ve now added cardboard to the list of items we accept! Now, when you bring in your electronics for recycling, you can also bring in your cardboard (as well as your Styrofoam and light bulbs). We can accept cardboard for free at all five of our drop-off locations: San Francisco, Berkeley, Burlingame, Mountain View, and our new Santa Clara Eco-station (on the border with San Jose). 

How is cardboard recycled? Well, first we feed it into out new baler. This baled cardboard is much denser and far easier to ship than unprocessed cardboard (reducing the carbon footprint of recycling it). Once the cardboard is baled, we ship it to Western Pacific Pulp and Paper in Newark, CA. They will de-ink the cardboard, if necessary, and turn it into a pulp, sometimes adding woodchips to strengthen it. The resulting material can be remanufactured into paper bags.

So, come on down to your local GreenCitizen and drop off your cardboard for free, and maybe you’ll see it in its new form sometime soon!

Posted in Bay Area, Berkeley, Burlingame, Carbon Emissions, E-waste, Electronic Recycling, Mountain View, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Clara, Styrofoam | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hard Drive Destruction in San Jose

Identity theft tops the list of complaints filed with the FTC every year since 1999. Last year 18% of all complaints filed were related to identity theft.

Where do these criminals get your personal information from? Well, one way of getting all your private data, like social security numbers, and credit card or bank account information, is from your hard drive (figure 1). Every computer or laptop has one; it’s what stores all your data. It houses the hard disk, where all your files and folders are physically located. A typical hard drive is only slightly larger than your hand, yet can hold over 500 GB of data. The data is stored on a stack of disks that are mounted inside a solid encasement. The data is stored on the hard drive magnetically, so it stays on the drive even after the power supply is turned off.

Figure 1: Hard Disk Drive

At GreenCitizen, we take your data security seriously. If you drop off your computer or laptop for responsible recycling, we can destroy your hard drive for $20 to make sure all the sensitive data is gone. We will extract the hard drive from the device and track it, down to the serial and model number. Once the hard drive has been tracked, we will crush it with a special hard drive crushing machine and send you a Certificate of Destruction that will list all the hard drives we destroyed for you. This way you have proof and guarantee that your private information won’t end up in the hands of criminals.

We also offer a certified cell phone wipe. Smartphones store a lot of data these days….and taking out the SIM card won’t do the trick. The information is actually stored inside the device.

So, what are you waiting for? Drop off your old smartphones and computers for recycling at GreenCitizen. And while you’re at it bring your old TVs, monitors, appliances….actually bring all your unwanted electronics and we make sure they are recycled locally and responsibly. We have 5 drop off locations in the Bay Area: San Francisco, Burlingame, Berkeley, Mountain View, and San Jose. By recycling with us you are enabling us to open more drop off locations, providing free electronics recycling for more Bay Area residents. Be part of the movement…be a GreenCitizen!

Posted in Bay Area, Berkeley, Burlingame, E-waste, Electronic Recycling, Mountain View, Recycle, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Clara, Uncategorized | Leave a comment