High-tech recycling

Andrea Damewood

Ring, ring: It’s Mother Nature calling.

Keep Evanston Beautiful, which has recycled unusual items since 1986, added cell phones to the mix in December. Community members who drop off old or broken cell phones instead of trashing them will provide a two-fold benefit, said Tracy Hubbard, executive coordinator of Keep Evanston Beautiful.

“There’s toxic chemicals like cadmium and mercury in cell phones, which can get into the groundwater,” Hubbard said. “We’ll take the phones and ship them to a company in Georgia where they’ll either refurbish them and send them to a Third World country where there are no land lines or dispose of them properly.”

Hubbard said that in the United States, 40 million to 50 million cell phones are thrown away annually, and only 1 percent of them are recycled. In Evanston cell phones can be dropped off at the Ecology Center, 2024 McCormick Blvd., or the Evanston Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.

But Evanston Township High School students this week can recycle a number of often-discarded items without making an extra trip.

Working with Keep Evanston Beautiful and the school’s Environmental Club, a group of five seniors declared their school week Recycling Week to raise awareness of what they see as a big problem.

“We’re a pretty wasteful institution,” said Hannah Gelder, a ETHS senior. “We did a trash audit of three classrooms, and 53 percent of the garbage was recyclable.”

When Gelder learned her senior studies class required an activist project, she and five other seniors decided on recycling.

The group is collecting a different recyclable each day. It was phone books Monday and printer ink cartridges. Wednesday they gathered household batteries. Today students are bringing athletic shoes that Nike will use as playground material and artificial turf. On Friday students can bring cell phones and eyeglasses.

“It’s mostly things that Keep Evanston Beautiful collects and things that kids have a lot of,” Gelder said.

The week hasn’t been so successful as hoped, she said, but added that her group is only beginning. The group plans to visit homerooms throughout the school and educate peers about what is recyclable and what is not.

“We had a lot of last-minute advertising, so it’s going better than I expected,” said Trish Decoster, an ETHS senior involved in the project.

ETHS’ recycling program is behind those of rival schools, Gelder said. While researching, her group discovered ETHS’s copy room uses one ton of paper, or 17 trees, every four days.

“The recycling bins Keep Evanston Beautiful gave to the school for recycling cans and bottles were transformed into garbage bins,” she said.

But Gelder said the trend is reversible, citing the school faculty’s positive response to the group’s action.

“I think everyone’s ready,” Gelder said. “It’s just a matter of getting into the habit and establishing a program that will last.”