Electronic Waste: FAQs

Never fear…the Harvard Resource Efficiency Program has answered your most pressing questions about e-waste. Have a query or concern not listed here? Email us at repcaptains@gmail.com for more answers!

What is e-waste? 
E-waste stands for “electronic waste.” Batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, old iPAD’s, iPOD’s, and laptops, CD’s, and ink cartridges are all types ofe-waste. Electronic waste can be recycled easily at Harvard.

How do I recycle e-waste?
Bring these items to your building manager. Even bigger items, like printers or computers, can be brought to your building manager.

Why recycle e-waste?
Electronic products often have rare minerals that are very expensive and may involve humanitarian and environmental hazards (mining is bad for the environment, and the proceeds from mining may sometimes fund violent regimes). Companies want to get their products back so that they can recycle the minerals and save money.
E-waste is often toxic (batteries, fluorescent light bulbs) so it’s not a good idea to throw them into a trash can. If you recycle e-waste, it can be disposed of properly.

So….after it goes to the building manager, what happens next?

The E-Waste goes down to Harvard’s warehouse where it gets sorted. Harvard has a (super cool) partnership with a program called LABB.  LABB takes autistic young adults and trains them to do a range of simple to more challenging jobs, depending on their ability, and then get them jobs in the “real world.” Harvard employs them to help with E-Waste.

The really cool part of the program comes with computers. The LABB people have been trained in how to test computer parts and refurbish them, so they test all the incoming computer parts, and use the working parts to build refurbished computers. The refurbished computers are then sold to other non-profits, like local schools, at a discounted price, and that money is used to supplement the LABB income, so it’s a win-win-win situation (computer parts are given a new life, LABB is employed, and non-profits get cheap computers).

The LABB students also test all the batteries and sort the dead ones into the correct disposal method, depending on what chemicals are in them. Fun Fact- 25% of all batteries arrive at Harvard’s warehouse with a 90% charge or higher (LABB sets these aside to be reused).

What do I do with e-waste when I’m not a pampered Harvard student?
Lots of grocery stores and other local shops (Staples, for example) will have bins for electronic waste. For really massive e-waste like computers you sometimes have to drag it down to your local dump and bring it to a special area. Luckily, you don’t buy new computers that often, so you only occasionally have to make such a trek! Some companies, like Dell, will pay the shipping costs if you send your laptop back to them!

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