E-Waste at Stanford, from A Student’s Perspective

March 11th, 2011

Olivia Isaac

Olivia Isaac

By Olivia Isaac
Sophomore,  Materials Science Engineering/Civil Engineering Major

I know it’s pathetic to admit, but my computer is the love of my life. My whole life is on it – represented through photos with my friends, essays for class, and my whole class/dance practice/lab schedule. Then one day the unthinkable happened; it wouldn’t turn on.

As I awaited the diagnosis in the Apple store, I pondered what would become of my computer. I then realized that if my computer did not survive, I didn’t know where to go to recycle my laptop on campus. It occurred to me that other Stanford students might not know as well. Yet with their emphasis in engineering and technology, Stanford should be at the forefront of educating its populace in how to properly dispose one’s electronics. So naturally, I thought that most students would be well aware of the dangers of electronic waste.

However when I conducted my survey, I found results that proved otherwise. 35% of the participants thought it’s legal in California to throw away electronics in the regular trash. Only 29% of the participants chose to find a suitable way of recycling their electronics; 41% would keep the product while the last 30% would throw it away. And lastly, only 3% of students polled knew where to recycle large electronics on campus. So I wondered – what could possibly account for these troubling statistics? I found that the main explanation for these statistics was a lack of communication about ewaste recycling. During my research Susie Claxton, the Manager of Student Housing Health, Safety, and Environmental Compliance, provided me with flyers, web pages, and PowerPoints all dedicated to educating the student body about ewaste disposal on Stanford campus. While resources are available, they obviously are not distributed adequately. Additionally, another possibility that could explain why some students are unaware of proper electronic disposal is that most Stanford students don’t need to recycle electronics while in college; though it varies, the average lifetime for a laptop is about 4 years.

To increase awareness about ewaste, there needs to be a better education program. As I mentioned before, the resources are out there yet they are not adequately distributed to the target audience. Secondly, there can be more electronic recycling bins, which remind students that electronics do not go in the regular trash. Chris Craig, of Stanford’s Environmental Health and Safety Department, also agreed that, “if you give people a relatively convenient option for getting rid of the stuff, they’re going to avail themselves of that disposable option, rather than throwing that in the trash.”

Educating the Stanford community about proper electronic disposal does not just apply to the four years that the students will be here. Instead ewaste education will foster awareness that will hopefully become a life practice for Stanford students. Thankfully, my computer was revived after two days in the shop. Yet my trip to the computer doctor and following investigation inspired me to raise more awareness among the Stanford community about ewaste. Hopefully, students will never have to suffer the pain of losing a computer quite yet, but when they do I hope they will choose the right option and recycle it.