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Wingate, local company reduce e-waste

Niklas Martin

Experts expect the world to generate more than 49 million tons of electronic waste this year. That’s a lot of cell phones, TVs, tablets, computers and refrigerators. E-waste is basically anything with a cord or batteries that we no longer find useful.

Thanks to a new partnership with a local recycling company, Wingate University students and employees can help decrease that tonnage while increasing environmentally friendly urban mining.

“People often don’t realize that when you are looking for precious metals to rebuild or manufacture electronics, instead of going to Mother Earth, it’s better to urban mine all the stuff that is going to e-waste,” explains Lynda Kuehni, director of sales and marketing at Southern Environmental Solutions of the Carolinas.

Kuehni was on campus recently to help student sustainability organization Bulldogs Into Going Green set up an e-waste collection site behind the Information Technology desk in the Ethel K. Smith Library. It’s a small bin that can accept only small appliances – think personal electronic devices, hair dryers, fitness trackers, (nothing larger than a shoebox or containing a cathode ray tube).

But the small start will lead to bigger efforts this spring during One Day, One Dog, when SESC will bring a 24-foot truck and accept any size appliances: lamps, microwaves, vacuum cleaners, freezers, etc. Tube-containing televisions will also be hauled away for a $10 fee. And for $5, the company will provide a certificate of destruction for surrendered hard drives that contain sensitive data.

“April 12 will be the day when people bring all sorts of things,” says Catherine Wright, assistant religion professor and advisor for BIGG. She’s hopeful that the new partnership with SESC will not only help keep electronics out of the landfill but will also create awareness, so that people begin to think ahead, when they are considering a purchase, about what happens to the item after it has served its purpose.

“I’m hoping students will try to find out more,” Wright says, “that they’ll start thinking, ‘Where does this phone go? When it goes in the bin, what happens next?’”

Being proactive

According to Kuehni, SESC has a number of ways to handle e-waste.

“Depending on the condition of what we receive, if it can be refurbished and reused, we will do so and resell it on an e-commerce site,” she says. “If we can’t refurbish it, we will de-manufacture it down to the screws so the components get separated.”

She said SESC is affiliated with a number of certified zero-waste-to-landfill vendors who deal in plastics, scrap metal, boards and circuitry.

The company’s primary sources for e-waste are municipalities, but Kuehni says it is now reaching out to schools, businesses and beyond to try to encourage recycling. Located about 15 miles east of Wingate in Peachland, SESC was represented at the University’s Street Fair late last August. Kuehni met with BIGG’s Molly Hutson and other club members in early November to hammer out details of the partnership.

Steve Shank, Wingate’s chief information officer, said the University has long recycled old computer equipment, but the partnership with SESC marks the first time it has proactively offered e-waste recycling options to students and employees.

He said that during the first week of having the e-waste bin, a variety of computer parts and a cell phone have been turned in. He expects the flow of e-waste to pick up as word spreads.

Alumnus Bryan Kershner of Matthews has a particular interest in seeing the bin fill up. His parents started SESC in 2012, the year after he earned his degree in business management.

“It makes me feel proud to be an alumni of a school that is recognizing the importance of recycling, and that is encouraging the students as well,” says Kershner, who decided to join SESC after four years of working third-shift management for a local distribution center. “I’ve always been a proponent of recycling and anything that betters the environment for the generations to come.”

The SESC bin is located at the IT desk, on the second floor of the EKS Library. In addition to appliances, the recycler accepts peripheral items, such as keyboards, chargers and cords. Also, CDs, DVDs and VHS tapes and their cases are accepted. Should you have a large collection of these items, please hold it for the mass e-waste collection effort on April 12. For more information, contact SESC at 704-272-0154.