As an artist who makes sculpture, jewelry and home decor from old computer parts, seeing the big white trucks around town that say Earthworm Recycling on the side — I’ve been curious to learn more about them for a while.
When I show my work, people often ask me: “Where do you get your materials?”, “Do you want mine?” My work addresses environmental issues and I play a role in educating the public about recycling e-waste. Meeting with Earthwork has helped me to be able to share the most accurate information. It appears that many people have no idea what to do with their old technology and end up amassing a collection in the basement. Which is great for me, because he components in older computers are bigger and better to work with. Besides advancements in making things smaller, n new technology every effort is made to save money by using cheaper materials and designing parts can’t be removed, or reused.
Georgiana Woods and Devin McGuire of Earthworm, were happy to meet with me at their office located in a big brick warehouse which I have driven by a million times having no idea what was inside. The public can drop off their e-waste at their warehouse at 35 Medford Street, Somerville, just around the corner from the Union Sq Target, for a fee of $5 a box
What does Earthworm do
Earthworm is a non profit that has a long history and has played a role in making recycling an accepted practice. Since 1970 they have been educating, advising and advocating to save natural resources while operating a self sufficient enterprise. In 1990, Earthworm introduced its “Close the Loop” program selling recycled paper. You can read a thorough description of their services and how everything is processed on their website.
Currently, Earthwork picks up recycling from over 700 clients located within the Route 128 (Metro Boston) area who pay for their services. It is then brought to the privately operated sorting and bailing facility in Charlestown. The Charlestown facility handles about 800 tons of recyclables per day.
Earthworm started picking up Electronic Waste (e-waste) from their business clients in 2000. Earthworm is an advocate for the wise use of natural resources and values re-use. Their goal is to reuse working technology by getting it to people who need it. Towards this aim they partner with the non-profit, Tecschange located in East Boston, who ships them internationally to places such as El Salvador. Tecschange maintains a list of other organizations looking for old but working computers on their website.
The rest of the e-waste Earthworm collects is sent to Good Point Recycling in Middlebury, VT. an electronics recycling company, consulting office, and a respected expert in “Fair Trade Recycling” run by former Earthworm associate, Robin Ingenthron. He writes a very informative blog – considered to be one of the best in the field.
Up in VT the electronics get disassembled and sorted by material: steel, plastic, aluminum, circuit boards. There is a market for these materials. People buy the metal and plastic. Some circuit boards are reused to repair other equipment.
There is a false impression that America dumps e-waste in 3rd world counties, when in fact, Africans buy shipping containers full of our old technology. They use it. They fix it. They take it apart and sell the parts as raw materials.
Worried about how e-waste is hurting the environment?
As Georgiana said, “Once you’ve bought your new computer, the damage is already done. Mining for the precious metals used in your new computer is the worse offender. Mining is terrible for the environment, working conditions are inhumane and they use child labor. If we were able to reuse all the precious metals in the computers that are thrown away, there would be no need to mine for more. In the future mines will be the landfills of today.
35 Medford Street
Somerville, MA 02143
12.6 million tons of solid waste was generated by residential, commercial and construction/demolition sources in 2008. This is enough to fill Fenway Park 74 times.44% of this solid waste is currently recycled, recovered or composted. An estimated 60% to 70% of the solid waste stream is potentially recyclable.Paper and paperboard accounts for 32% of the municipal waste stream. (by weight)
Places that Re-Use