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  Sierra Magazine
  July/August 2005
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Sierra Magazine
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Hey Mr. Green
Advice for the office, the bathroom, and beyond
by Bob Schildgen

Hey Mr. Green,
How can I recycle my old computer and monitor? — Sally in San Francisco

It's a sobering thought that the very molecules that once hummed with tender love notes or meticulous spreadsheets end up poisoning other human beings. Well over half of recycled computers are shipped to poor countries, where people dig into their toxic cyberguts just to make a living. (See "Lay of the Land," March/April, page 14, or visit the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition to learn more about the issues.) In the absence of tough laws against such practices, it's not easy to find safe recycling, but it does exist.

The Computer TakeBack Campaign lists recyclers that pledge not to export hazardous e-waste and to follow other safety guidelines. You can also check the bona fides of local recyclers by asking what they do with the computers. If they're dismantling them on-site (and have the shredders and crushers to prove it), they're probably not shipping the machines out of the country. Better yet, if your old computer still works, and is less than five years old, you can donate it to organizations that will refurbish it and find it a new home. Visit techsoup.org/recycle/donate and sharetechnology.org.

Hey Mr. Green,
My supermarket carries only one brand of toilet tissue with recycled material — and it's produced by a company known for bad forestry practices. Are there environmentally safe brands? — Marliss in Port Washington, Wisconsin

That ain't an idle inquiry, considering that Americans spin 400 million miles of TP off the roll each year. (If none of it were made from recycled paper, we would use up the equivalent of 50 million trees.) When shopping for any kind of recycled paper, make sure the package indicates what percentage is postconsumer waste — that is, paper that's been recycled after people actually used it. Otherwise, papermakers can use the word "recycled" for scraps and trimmings that never even left the mill. Calling such stuff recycled is like a food label screaming "cholesterol free" on a product that didn't have it in the first place.

A number of big-name brands do contain 20 percent authentic postconsumer waste. But the highest postconsumer content — 80 percent — comes from Vermont-based Seventh Generation. If you can't convince your supermarket to stock it, you can order entire cases directly from wholesalers such as Treecycle.

Hey Mr. Green,
I belong to some organizations that hand out those plastic-covered name badges at each meeting. I have tried suggesting that we reuse them but haven't gotten very far. If there were an environmental-impact figure I could quote, it might help. — Becky in Minneapolis

The gas or jet fuel incinerated to get to the meetings in the first place has an impact thousands of times greater than those pesky badge holders. So instead of sweating the small stuff, try to drum up some excitement about evaluating — and reducing — your group's transportation footprint. If those badge holders still bug you, just set a good example by saving your own and bringing it to the next meeting.

Read more advice from Mr. Green, including his Web-only mailbag, and submit your own environmental questions at sierraclub.org/mrgreen.
 

Mr. Green illustration by Melinda Beck; used with permission.


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