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Trends in Green (Sustainable Innovations on Campus)

E-Cycling

The University of Rochester finds success with electronics recycling.

Once a year, an ordinary corner of a parking lot at the University of Rochester (UR) becomes a mecca for electronics recycling. E-Cycle Day, an annual event organized by the University Facilities and Services department, is open to the entire university community and brings in thousands of pounds of recyclables each year.

The event, now six years old, initially began as an extra perk for the university. In May 2010, however, New York State became one of 25 states to pass legislature making it illegal not to recycle electronics, turning E-Cycle Day into a central resource.

“The event started around the time that electronics were becoming easier to recycle, but before it was the law that you had to,” says UR Recycling Coordinator Amy Kadrie. “But now that you can no longer just leave your electronics at the side of the curb, it has become a service for people on our campus to easily do the right thing.”

Changing Trends

This year, the total weight of recycled electronics was 25,000 pounds, roughly 9,851 pounds less than the event’s peak year in 2010. On the surface, this might seem like bad news, but Kadrie attributes the drop in weight to recent trends in technology.

In comparison to the influx of CRT televisions, one of the heaviest items collected in previous years, the team now sees a greater number of flat-screen TVs. This trend in thinner, lighter electronics can be seen across the board, with laptops and cell phones following suit. The number of participants, rather than the weigh-in at the end of the day, is now perhaps a better success indicator.

“The event is becoming less about the number of pounds we collect and more about the convenient service we offer to our community to safely and responsibly recycle electronic items,” says Kadrie.

She also cites the weight decrease as the result of an increase in local, year-round recycling facilities that process electronics. They popped up in the wake of the new state law, meaning that E-Cycle Day, while still a prominent on-campus service, is no longer the only resource of its kind.

Keeping It Local

The company that facilitates the collecting, sorting and recycling process during E-Cycle Day is Sunnking, based in Brockport, a city about 30 minutes outside of Rochester.

The day’s process includes unloading electronic devices from arriving participants, sorting them into designated wooden pallets, wrapping them and loading them onto the Sunnking trucks.

Although the focus of the event is on recycling efforts, funneling the process through a single company has the added benefit of reducing emissions. Rather than each individual participant driving to a recycling plant to drop off electronics, the recyclables arrive in bulk on a single truck.

Campus Support

E-Cycle Day was open this year from 6:30 A.M. to 2 P.M., with peak hours occurring early in the morning as many employees eagerly arrived before work. Kadrie says some people line up as early as 6:15 A.M. on drop-off day.

“One thing that’s stayed the same throughout the years is that people love the event. They love the convenience,” says Kadrie.

Yearly, one of the largest contributors to this event is the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC). Like many hospitals, in order to stay up to date, URMC has a quick technological turnover, making E-Cycle Day a prime opportunity to dispose of outdated machinery.

Student Participation

While employees participate in the event, undergraduates play an active role in the day, too. Since students living in dorms generally have minimal belongings to recycle, they stay involved with E-Cycle Day by volunteering.

Senior Abigail Fagan, who works under Kadrie as a writer for UR’s sustainability blog, attended the event as a reporter, but soon found herself hauling items.

“I went to E-Cycle Day to support Amy and to get a gist of the event in order to write about it, but I also helped unload the electronics out of people’s trunks with the other volunteers,” she says. Outside of E-Cycle Day, UR annually provides a scaled down electronics recycling service to undergraduates as they move out in May.

According to Kadrie, one of the event’s major successes is its long-term effects on sustainable behavior.

“Our event has been pretty consistent. The word has gotten out more over the years, and the university expects it to happen, so I do see a lot of the same people show up year after year, in addition to new people,” she says.

This article originally appeared in the December 2013 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Julia Sklar is a science writer and a senior at the University of Rochester. She is the editor of UR Green News, an intern at my4.org and futurity.org and former news intern at New Scientist. She can be reached through her website, www.juliasklar.com.