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This Is What Happens To Your Recycled Motor Oil, Batteries And TVs
May 13, 2021
Ever wonder what becomes of some of our personal items after they’ve outlived their usefulness and are ready to discard? Things like cellphones, laptops or that old CD you used to listen to on repeat back in high school? Though once out of sight, typically out of mind, these items (or at least the components of these items) do go on to do other things. That is if you put in the extra effort to recycle them.
Not everything that’s recyclable can go into the single-stream bins. We cobbled together a handful of these special cases — from motor oil to digital pregnancy tests — to explore their afterlives.
Computers, Smartphones, Televisions
These are some of the classic items we often think of when we think of electronics waste. They are processed somewhat similarly though special precautions need to be made for hazardous materials. For example batteries need to be removed from cellphones and older, cathode-ray tube television sets require special handling due to their lead content.
After e-waste items are collected, they are typically sorted by type and checked for resale value, says Tim Dewey-Mattia, who serves as a board member for the Northern California Recycling Association. The device will be broken down to its core components before it is shredded. Plastic parts are flaked, cleaned and melted into pellets which can be used to make various plastic items from picnic tables to traffic cones — or other new electronic devices.
The metal undergoes a smelting process that uses high temperatures and special equipment to extract out precious metals such as gold, silver or copper.
Fun fact: In recycling circles, televisions, radios and computers (along with a few other household items) are known as “brown goods” because the term harkens back to the days when televisions and radios were housed in wood or fake wood cabinetry.
It’s harder to find recyclers that will accept these items because there isn’t a good market for them, says Dewey-Mattia. “Our recycling systems, with all of the machines and human sorters, are really set up to capture the most commonly generated materials,” he says. “They are really just low-grade pieces of plastic that you can’t recycle curbside.”
You can ship your old CD or DVD collections off for recycling into new plastic, but because the processing costs more than the value of the material you will likely have to pay a fee. If the discs are in good condition and still in their original boxes you might be better off donating them to your local thrift shop.
If not, the internet offers plenty of ideas for an exciting CD/DVD afterlife from coasters to mosaics.
Used motor oil can build up a slew of impurities such as dirt, metal scrapings, water and other chemicals but it never technically goes bad. In the recycling process, these impurities are removed and a variety of oil products, fuel and even anti-freeze can be made from the original oil. Recycling motor oil comes with ample environmental benefits and has shown to work just as well, if not better than, virgin oil.
Digital Pregnancy Tests
The lure of getting a definitive “pregnant” or “not pregnant” on a screen may be enticing but it comes with an environmental cost. These tests house a tiny computer inside them to interpret the results and despite their one-use status are considered electronic waste.
Dewey-Mattia says he doesn’t think any ick factor from the presence of human pee would deter collectors but recommends rinsing them off first.
Popular digital test company Clear blue instructs the user to remove the battery first by inserting a coin into the slot at the end and twisting the test open. The battery should be recycled separately from the rest of the test “according to the appropriate recycling scheme for electrical equipment.”
Many batteries aren’t even dead before they’re recycled says Daniel Lin, an associate professor of operations management at the University of San Diego School of Business. Lin studies environmentally and socially responsible operations and recently co-authored a paper titled “Choice of Electronic Waste Recycling Standard Under Recovery Channel Competition.”
“A lot of batteries are not really used,” Lin said. “The device is old, it’s broken, but the battery is still good.”
Lin highlighted the work of the company BigBattery, Inc. which is salvaging working batteries from otherwise dead electronics.
When recycled, the batteries are disassembled and precious metals and conflict minerals are extracted. Lithium batteries — which are gaining in popularity today — can be recycled into something called “black mass.” This powder is made up of various metals including lithium, cobalt and nickel and can be used to make new batteries.
Landfill vs. Recycling Center
When it comes to electronics, recycling is always a better option than dropping items in a landfill where toxic chemicals can leach out and into the water supply, but it comes with its own drawbacks too.
“At a high level, I do believe there are environmental drawbacks and a premium to properly recycle,” says Evelyn O’Donnell, founder of the Silicon Valley-based recycling company Green Mouse IT Management Services. “Transporting electronic wastes requires the use of gasoline for vehicles to pick up and subsequently send downstream for further recycling (and) some electronic wastes are sent by truck from state to state for processing,” she says.
In addition, the process of smelting can release toxic fumes in the air but precious metal extraction performed overseas can be even worse, says Lin.
“When e-waste is shipped overseas, (the items are) likely being processed in a more primitive way such as open burning,” says Lin. “Toxic material is likely to be dumped directly to rivers (and) people handle toxic e-waste with little or no protection.” These practices are largely what has motivated China and other Asian countries to ban the importation of foreign waste, he added.
“Given some of these health and environmental problems, consumers should first think about if refurbishing is an option,” says Gilbert Michaud, assistant professor of practice at Ohio University. “If not, make sure to check that the recycler you are sending your materials to is reputable and employs good practices, as not all e-waste recyclers are created equal.”
Lin suggests you do this by asking if they send their e-waste to a certified recycling facility.
On the bright side, Lin adds, as we rely more and more on streaming services, our dependence on things like DVD players and mp3 players are dwindling and resulting in less of those types of bulky e-waste items.
GreenMouse Promotes Healthy Living in Silicon Valley at Community Event
September 29, 2013
San Jose, CA –– September 6, 2013 – GreenMouse, Inc. will bring to San Jose its first community healthy living fair, where attendees can visit over 45 local service, product, and food vendors dedicated to promoting healthy living for people and the environment. The fun-filled event will also showcase talented dancers, vocalists, and upcycling artists. “How The Health Are You?” takes place on Sunday, September 29, 2013, from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at 1401 Parkmoor, San Jose, CA. Admission to the event is free.
“We are enthusiastic about this community building event. This is an opportunity for local companies to share their services and products, and demonstrate the benefits of healthy living for both people and the environment,” said Evelyn O’Donnell, GreenMouse, Inc. President and CEO.
GreenMouse, Inc. started as an e-waste recycling business committed to building communities by providing a convenient way to dispose of unwanted waste. The company has since expanded its services to include fundraising and producing healthy living events. This reflects their commitment to promote healthier, more efficient products and services that enhance lifestyles and creates a better future for us all. “How The Health Are You?”is a fun and educational family event with children’s attractions, demonstrations, and local vendors providing information on their products, services and resources. Larger companies, such PG&E, Peet’s Coffee and VTA are participating to represent their involvement with the community and the environment. Attendees may purchase healthy and tasty food from food trucks.
About “How the Health Are You?”
“How the Health Are You?”is a community event produced by GreenMouse, Inc. for the purpose of promoting healthy living for people and the environment. “How the Health Are You?”is interactive and centers around activities, presentations, food and entertainment. Local businesses and organizations provide information, services, products, and resources that are beneficial to healthy living. GreenMouse, Inc. also produces customized healthy living events for businesses throughout California.
About GreenMouse, Inc.
GreenMouse, Inc. was founded in 2005 with the purpose of creating jobs for disadvantaged young adults and to provide electronic waste recycling services and fundraising events to the community. GreenMouse trains and hires at-risk young adults and high school students. The company partners with the City of San Jose and its work2future program and Rebekah Children’s Services and its wraparound program to foster job development. For more information visit www.greenmouse.com.
GreenMouse Recycling Brings National Recycling Celebration to San Jose
November 12, 2012
In recognition of America Recycles Day, GreenMouse Recycling will host for the residents of San Jose and surrounding cities, a three-day recycle-athon with a goal to recycle 100,000 lbs. of electronic waste between November 15th and November 17th. Starbucks gift cards will be given to anyone recycling an item with a screen (laptops, monitors, televisions, cell phones). Other items, such as printers, fax machines, and other electronics will also be accepted.
“America Recycles Day helps bring awareness to the importance of recycling and how we can all do are share to help make our community a better place to live,” said Evelyn O’Donnell, GreenMouse, Inc. President and CEO. “We are happy to participate in this event along with others across the United States.”
The national recycling rate is currently at 34 percent. Recycling 75 percent of the nation’s waste would create nearly 1.5 million jobs by 2030, according to a report by the Tellus Institute with Sound Resource Management.
“We are very proud supporters of GreenMouse Recycling’s America Recycles Day event and commend their efforts to promote recycling in San Jose, CA. Recycling is the easiest thing we can all do to improve our community, conserve natural resources and create green jobs. Collectively, through events like these, we aim to make recycling bigger and better 365 days a year,” said Brenda Pulley, Senior Vice President of Recycling at Keep America Beautiful and national program manager for America Recycles Day.
For more information about recycling at GreenMouse Recycling, visit www.greenmouse.com or call (408) 648-4400.
About America Recycles Day
America Recycles Day is a national program of Keep America Beautiful, and is the only nationally recognized day and community-driven awareness event dedicated to promoting and celebrating recycling in the U.S. Since its inception in 1997, communities across the country have participated in America Recycles Day on November 15 to educate, promote environmental citizenship, and encourage action. Learn more at AmericaRecyclesDay.org.
About Keep America Beautiful, Inc.
Keep America Beautiful, Inc., established in 1953, is the nation’s largest volunteer-based community action and education organization. With a network of over 1,200 affiliate and participating organizations, Keep America Beautiful forms public-private partnerships and programs that engage individuals to take greater responsibility for improving their community’s environment. To learn more, visit kab.org.
San Jose Programs Trains At-Risk Youths in Green Jobs
By Damian Trujillo, August 29, 2012
Some say the best way to stop a bullet is with a job, and there is a San Jose program that aims to do just that.
At 14, Elizabeth Campos, a former self-described gang banger, is now finding her way through a Green Cadre work program. She’s now 21, and attending San Jose City College – a feat she attributes to innovative program that provides job training for low-income and at-risk youth and adults.
“It’s a second chance for me,” Campos said.
And she is just one of the success stories.
“The kids we have are typically kids out of school. Many don’t have a diploma, the kind of kid ripe for gang activity,” said Richard Martinez, the program director at Work2future’s Green Cadre program.
The program is run with funds from the Federal Workforce Reinvestment Act, and helps roughly 300 teens and young adults per year. Work2future operates centers that serve San Jose, Campbell Morgan Hill, Los Altos Hills, Gilroy, Los Gatos, Saratoga, Monte Sereno and parts of Santa Clara County.
It’s the kind of program touted by Mayor Chuck Reed and Police Chief Chris Moore as solutions to the growing youth violence.
The Green Cadre program is also a component of the city’s effort, with an office right in the San Jose Office of Economic Development, training youth for green jobs.
That’s what helped Isaiah Garcia land a job at GreenMouse Recycling.
“It’s helped me out a lot,” Garcia said. “I got out of prison, got a bad start, was looking for a new start.” Green Mouse has given five graduates of the Green Cadre program that new start.
The company partners with the city to provide jobs for the participants, and they don’t like to hear that they’re taking a risk hiring the youth with a shady past.
“We look at the future, not the past,” said Green Mouse president Evelyn O’Donnell. “I’m giving them a chance because it’s a chance for me to give back to my community.”
Old Electronics Help Los Altos High Cheerleaders Get to Nationals
By Jessica Parks, March 11, 2012
The Los Altos High School cheer team is getting ready to compete for a national championship in Anaheim at the end of March. They’re practicing some new moves, perfecting their acrobatics and raising money to help with travel expenses.
They did a bake sale, of course. But the real money came from an e-waste drive — collecting old printers, microwaves, TVs, computers and cables collecting dust in neighbors’ garages. GreenMouse, a San Jose-based recycling company, breaks down the items and sells the scrap plastics, metals and other components. Half the proceeds go to the cheer team.
Last year, Los Altos High was one of GreenMouse’s most successful donors, raising $2,500 for the Associated Student Body in just one weekend. This year’s tally isn’t in yet, but organizers estimated that about 400 cars pulled through the donation drive.
San Jose E-Waste Upgraded to Artwork
By Susan DeFreitas, November 25th, 2011
It seems only fitting that the San Jose Museum of Art – a cultural institution situated in the heart of California‘s Silicon Valley – would pay an artistic tribute to the computer. Its latest exhibition, “Beta Space: Anna Sew Hoy,” does just that, with a little help from San Jose-based e-waste collector/recycler GreenMouse Recycling.
After commissioning the project and selecting artist Anna Sew Hoy, the museum approached GreenMouse’s owner Evelyn O’Donnell to provide a selection of collected e-waste among other “raw” materials, as GreenMouse already hosts a permanent display of obscure and early computer technologies that illustrates the history of obsolesce in both industrial design and computer technologies. In conceiving this new work, Sew Hoy was asked to visit and respond to San Jose and Silicon Valley’s technology culture; she said that it made sense to look at e-waste as a reflection of those Silicon Valley startups that first boom and then bust.
Set to run until February 2012 as part of the museum’s ongoing experimental gallery, “Beta Space” focuses on new, interdisciplinary and creative uses of nontraditional media and materials by internationally acclaimed artists from the Bay Area Glass Institute, who – under Sew Hoy’s direction – created a new group of sculptural works in large, custom-blown glass vessels containing the “electronic detritus” provided by GreenMouse Recycling.
O’Donnell reports that she was happy to help the artists in creating this work, as the company’s involvement in efforts such as this – as well as the “mini-museum” in GreenMouse’s office and their fundraising work with local organizations and charities – is part of how the company helps to distinguish itself from more industrial e-waste recyclers.
San Jose Museum Turns E-Waste Into Art
By Shawn Wright, October 17, 2011
New life and a different perspective are being given to e-waste at the San Jose Museum of Art.
Artist Anna Sew Hoy, San Jose, Calif.-based GreenMouse Recycling and the Bay Area Glass Institute (BAGI) have collaborated to create a new group of sculptural works entitled “Nothing All Day” that showcases discarded electronics.
Sew Hoy’s work is the second installation in the museum’s experimental exhibition gallery “Beta Space,” which premiered in late August and runs through Feb. 26.
“There are a lot of different things going on in the work,” Sew Hoy said. “I think what people will see is how much stuff we throw away; how quickly things become obsolete.”
The installation incorporates custom-blown glass pieces made by BAGI artists and recycled e-waste such as computer keyboards, mice and DSL cords.
Sew Hoy also wanted to highlight “Nothing All Day.” She worked with BAGI to create large glass vessels to contain the e-waste.
Evelyn O’Donnell, founder and owner of GreenMouse, jumped at the opportunity to sponsor the exhibit.
“My heart is really in the arts,” said O’Donnell, who has a background in costume and interior design. “Even though I consider myself a junk collector, I like to think of putting dignity to the stuff that we find and recycle. My dream has always been to mix art with e-waste.”
Founded in 2004, GreenMouse uses recycling to help support community jobs programs and fundraising for nonprofit arts and theater groups. The company offers e-waste recycling, both collection and drop-off, to businesses and residential consumers in the Bay Area.
“I think she must sent about 400 pounds of white keyboards and mouses to my house,” Sew Hoy said. “I was really inspired by Evelyn; just the fact that she started this business herself, the way she interacts with the things she recycles, the e-waste itself and the way she collects pieces that are of interest to her.”
GreenMouse already hosts a permanent display of obscure and early computer technologies at its San Jose location, O’Donnell said.
“When they called,” O’Donnell said, “it was just good timing. Their dream met my dream.”
GreenMouse Offers Responsible Recycling
May 18, 2011
“Recycling is more than just dropping it off and having it magically disappear,” said Evelyn O’Donnell, CEO of GreenMouse Recycling in San Jose, Calif. California recycling legislation makes it simple for consumers to recycle potentially hazardous electronic materials, such as older CRT computer monitors, with programs that offer incentives to collectors and recyclers. But making it easy for consumers doesn’t mean the collector’s job is done for them.
“While consumers are able to drop off components without cost to them, the e-waste must still be recycled responsibly – there are rules and regulations, many categories of red tape and bureaucracy. The general public is unaware of our challenges in making a small electronics recycling company run efficiently. I know I once was.”
Prior to opening the e-waste collection business in 2004, O’Donnell had been involved in many charitable organizations in the Silicon Valley and was looking to develop a second career in a purpose-driven enterprise. “I’d worked in high-tech marketing and sales, and I’d never really thought about where e-waste went,” she said. Like so many people, she just figured it went ‘away’ and she no longer had to be concerned with it. “I had no idea where all this stuff went and when I found out, it opened up whole new world for me.”
GreenMouse Recycling, based in near Highway 101 in San Jose, collects discarded electronics for recycling on-site, at businesses and through special collection events to aid non-profits. Today her challenges include educating the general public that there is no magic way to dispose of discarded electronics.
“Our responsibility continues even after the e-waste goes to the recycler. We ensure government rules and regulations are adhered to long after the materials have left our docks,” O’Donnell said
Her other communications challenges focus on the public’s widely held misperception that broken computers being processed by children in developing nations such as India and China. “While that may happen in some small degree, California rules in particular require us as collectors to assure e-waste is recycled in a legal manner and is monitored by third party organizations.
“Everything goes to China eventually,” she said, “but only long after the materials have been processed into a near raw state.”
In founding the company, O’Donnell’s vision was to create a purpose-driven company that would also provide sustainable employment and training to disadvantaged adults. The company now has 10 employees, and is at a comfortable level, she said.
Being small has certain advantages, she related. She knows many of the contracts and needs of her clients herself, and fears she will lose that one-on-one touch as her business grows. As she prepares to expand out of her 4,500 feet of high-roof industrial space, she is looking for ways to retain the personal, hands-on experience the customer receives from her firm. Among her plans are a learning center and e-waste museum, not a least of which includes a near complete collection of Apple computers from the early 1980’s, most of which are still functional. Her idea is to make recycling friendly, memorable and approachable; something she feels is unavailable through larger, more corporate alternatives.
“We’re starting with the children, for example,” she said. “We hope to instill life-long habits of sustainable environmental stewardship.
In addition, she says GreenMouse has another strategic competitive advantage. “When people ask if we can do something, we say, “Yes” first, and then figure out how to make it happen.”