Your old PC may look lead-free, but it has the potential to be an environmental hazard. Opened in November 2003, the Hammond-based company Technology Exchange disassembles electronics and recycles their valuable, reusable materials. Jeff Mace, Technology Exchange vice president for sales and marketing, explains how e-waste gets its junk value.
Q: What makes recycling electronics different from, say, cardboard or plastics?
A: There is a variety of material in e-waste that makes it harmful to the environment. It accounts for 70 percent of the overall toxic waste we find in our landfills. The material the manufacturers utilize contains mercury, tin, PVC plastics — materials that don't break down. Lead in computer monitors, mercury in flatscreens, 20 percent of a cathode-ray tube — the old monitor you had on your desk before you went slim and flat panel — is comprised of lead. That works out between 4 and 8 pounds per system, or per monitor.
That monitor sits in a dump and gets rolled over several thousand times with a heavy piece of equipment, and what it does is (the hazardous materials) leech out over time. It ends up in your landfill, which is not liquid-tight all the time. That lead can infiltrate the water system, so where does it go from there? Electronics don't break down; they're not environmentally friendly.
Q: What is Technology Exchange's process for recycling and disposing e-waste?
A: When we partner with an organization like the Green Project, where they host events or a drop-off point where people come by and drop off their equipment, and we collect it, it comes back to our 30,000-square-foot facility, where we process the equipment and separate it by type, age and condition. Computers get separated, monitors get separated, keyboards, mice, everything.
The material, once it's broken down and separated, does have component value in quantity, and it gets sold to secondary scrap recyclers throughout the country. We take the material that can have some value — circuit boards, hard-drives — and separate and sell to individual buyers by the Gaylord (a heavy-duty fiberboard box used for shipping electronic waste that contains hazardous materials).
A Gaylord can weigh several hundred pounds to a couple thousand pounds. So all of a sudden, if they got a hard drive that weighs 2 pounds, and you get four cents a pound for it, that's eight cents you just made. So fill that Gaylord with 2,000 hard drives, and pretty soon you have some value to cover those operations costs.
There is a variety of recycling companies out there who try and sell this material overseas. Environmentally, that's not the right thing to do. Other companies out there, like ours, go the extra step and are more concerned about doing it correctly. That's our first goal.
Q: What role do you play with the clients?
A: I came on board in December 2003. From the beginning, sales was my primary goal in the company, and capturing clients. That's still been my mission, developing the sales and clients, but also educating the public: first, to the fact that Louisiana doesn't have a lot in terms of enforcing people taking their materials to the dump, and they have a long way to go to enforce that businesses to do the same. I run into companies or clients that say, "Why am I going to pay you to do it? I can just throw it away, and it's cheaper. I'm not going to get caught." My job is to educate and convince people that it's the right thing to do, and it's the responsible thing to do. Unfortunately, you run into some clients who are more concerned about cost than doing the right thing.
Typically, it's that one person in the organization who champions that cause. That's becoming more and more the case. I guess I look at the glass being half full. To the businesses' credit in the area, they are becoming a little more environmentally conscious.
To recycle your e-waste, visit Whole Foods Market at Arabella Station the first Saturday of the month, where Whole Foods and the Green Project host a drop-off event to send your waste to the e-recyclers at Technology Exchange.
The Hollygrove Market Buyers' Club
The Hollygrove Market & Farm offers fresh Louisiana produce from rural farmers and local backyard growers to members of a buyers' club on Saturdays. Club members pick produce from makeshift picnic tables with vinyl covers, plus they can choose from farmers' surplus items — baby root vegetables and red beans this week — in a lagniappe section. Those items are purchased separately.
The market buys the farmers' produce over a two-, three- or four-month period, and each week, farmers bring their current harvest to sell.
Americorps volunteers Ashley Locklear and Alicia Myers pack and unload boxes of seasonal produce including mushrooms, wild rice, strawberries and oranges in preparation for the buyers' market.
As a "produce broker," Locklear works with farmers throughout Louisiana to sell their food to the program. Myers contacts the participating members each week with the current menu, market news and health-conscious recipes. Customers also receive a map showing where their food originates.
"We want to connect people to the farmers, and if it's just with a little map, it seems to do the job," Myers says.
"So much of what we do reflects community desires, so it's not something that we'll dictate now, because that'll change," Vance says. "The community will let us know what works for them and what doesn't."
Greg Horn, best-selling author of Living Green: A Sustainable Guide, seeks video entries for JustDoOne.org's collection of sustainable living ideas. Entries should summarize ideas in no longer than three minutes. Judges will determine the best entry and award the winner a $5,000 cash prize.
Horn's Web site serves as an online forum to help users answer, "What can I do?" to live greener. Visit www.JustDoOne.org for contest details. — Alex Woodward
There's nothing greener than turning your refuse into fuel. Since April, the Abita Brewing Company has done exactly that with the installation of a low-rate anaerobic digester that ferments the brewery's industrial wastewater, converting it to reusable methane. In time, Abita President David Blossman estimates, the treatment facility should reduce the company's natural-gas purchases by as much as 30 percent. "Right now an MMBTU (1 million British Thermal Units, or close to 1,000 cubic feet of gas) is around $9. It used to be $2.50," he says. "That's about $46,000 per year (in savings)."
Blossman says the new system already is exceeding expectations. Depending on the use of different nutrients and operating temperatures, the quality and volume of the gas is subject to change. "We're experimenting right now," he says. "They told us we'd get 70, 75 percent methane out of it. We're getting 92 percent. That's unheard of."
Nearly as important, he adds, is that the facility is odorless as it operates. "We want to be good neighbors," Blossman says. "We don't want it smelling like a septic tank, and we don't want to waste any of that because the smell would be methane. We want it all."
With a cost of nearly $1.5 million — roughly twice the price of replacing the brewery's previous aerobic system — it will take a long time for the anaerobic conversion to pay for its cost, Blossman says. But it's just one part of a larger companywide sustainability strategy that includes hybrid vehicles for sales representatives and "six-pack wraps," a European style of packaging that conserves 50 percent of the paper used in traditional carries.
"Usually you can get a five-, six-year payback (on projects)," he says. "But it makes our people and me feel better about what we're doing, and you just can't measure that in a payback. Most green projects do have a payback. You just have to be more patient with them." — Noah Bonaparte Pais
The Salvation Army kicked off its EnviRenew initiative with 12 days of Christmas greening in Broadmoor, identifying and upgrading a household during each of the 12 days from Dec. 26 to Jan. 6. It kicked off the initiative's long-term plan to renovate 125 homes and build 125 homes over three years.
Salvation Army partnered with Green Coast Enterprises, the Broadmoor Improvement Association, the U.S. Green Building Council and local green building suppliers and contractors to add eco-friendly elements to Broadmoor homes. Recipients included Mary Phipps, who lives with her daughter, son-in-law, granddaughters and great-grandchildren. With supplies provided by local contractor AAC Inc., the program placed new energy-efficient windows in the Phipps' home.
"Those who are the most vulnerable need green home sustainability to have the greatest chance of success" in post-Katrina New Orleans, Frizzell says, pointing to the economic pinch caused by higher energy expenses being paid with lower household incomes. "This program is about reducing the cost to the homeowner."
Other recipients include Vivian Batiste, who received new Energy Star appliances, courtesy of Ferguson Bath, Kitchen and Lighting Gallery. Local retailers including New Orleans Bamboo, South Coast Solar and Green Bean Insulation also provided services and products to Broadmoor residents who were identified by the EnviRenew Initiative.
Frizzell says he hopes the initiative sets a new standard for building and reconstruction in New Orleans.
AmeriCorps house captains partnered with Rebuilding Together New Orleans and led 100 volunteers from the campus group Hillel to rebuild four homes for disabled and low-income homeowners in Broadmoor during four days earlier this month. They used salvaged materials, environmentally responsible landscaping products and energy-efficient appliances and insulation in their renovations and repairs. RTNO plans to host three more Hillel volunteer groups this year. — Woodward
Terrebonne celebrates wetlands
The Convention on Wetlands — the international accord for wetland conservation and preservation and the first global intergovernmental treaty for the sustainable use of natural resources — was signed at Ramsar, Iran, on the shores of the Caspian Sea, on Feb. 2, 1971. To commemorate the historic assembly, the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center will sponsor a series of events marking Terrebonne Parish's first participation in World Wetlands Day. On Feb. 2, Houma's Waterlife Museum, the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, LSU Wildlife Hospital of Louisiana and others will host educational events throughout the day. — Woodward
January's hard-freeze warnings worried many in Louisiana's multimillion-dollar strawberry industry, but despite the harsh weather, some farmers were able to save their juicy wares. Some farmers started harvesting in November, though the season typically runs through May, with a peak in March or April (just in time for the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival). Good quality, early springtime berries are super-sweet and light. Heather Robertson of Ponchatoula's Johndale Farm, whose husband will be crowned king at this year's festival (April 3-5), offers strawberries at the Crescent City Farmers Markets on Tuesday and Saturday. You can also find the fruit at the Westwego Farmers & Fisheries Market, from Thomas Waren of Deluxe Harvest.
The Crescent City Farmers Market is at Uptown Square (at River Road) from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, and at Magazine and Girod streets from 8 a.m. to noon o Saturday.
Westwego Farmers & Fisheries Market is at 484 Sala Ave. from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday.