Entering the Co-op parking lot from the Watervliet Avenue Extension side in the early afternoon on Earth Day, anyone would notice the most obvious indication of a special event—a big white party tent! What could be there? Was it children’s events? Music? Delicious food? A surprising amount of vehicular traffic close to the tent would seem to contradict those hopes.
In fact, under the tent was something even better. Five giant cardboard containers were already half full with outdated and overworked computer printers, big stereo equipment from the ‘80s, computers, cameras, cables, and more. Overseen by a small team of member-owners, electronics recycling was underway just in time for spring cleaning, and people were responding in a big way!
The electronics recycling event was the brainchild of Dave Filkins, Data Administrator at Honest Weight. Dave has been recycling through a company called eWaste for a few years, sending them obsolete hardware such as printers, monitors, and computers from the Co-op. At eWaste, they do two-stream recycling, repairing and reusing parts and devices that are salvageable, and breaking down and recycling everything else. So when plans got underway for an Earth Day event, Dave presented the idea of extending electronics recycling to the community. With a site plan and personnel, the program was off and running.
Posters advertising the event listed eligible items, from batteries to video equipment, as well as unacceptable ones, such as chlorofluorocarbons-containing devices and radioactive materials. On Earth Day, the worn-out electronics poured in.
Although New York State law now regulates the materials allowed in landfills and sets fines for violators, it is possible for dangerous materials to slip through. An article in Popular Science estimated that 50 million tons of electronic waste are dumped into landfills worldwide every year. The computers, cell phones, and other electronics that we use every day include components made of heavy metals and toxic materials that can poison the environment for centuries. Grassroots efforts and local recyclers can help us all be more responsible about our use of these ubiquitous yet hazardous items.
There is good reason for Dave to be happy with the results of his Earth Day efforts. The volume of recycled equipment collected from the Co-op community was staggering. When asked about how to be responsible, Dave acknowledged that recycling is good, and he took it a step further noting that even recycling takes energy. The most responsible action of all is to buy responsibly to begin with, by considering the life of the product and its impact on the environment when we are finished with it.
Opportunities for Clothing and Textile Recycling
Compared to the problems associated with heavy metals in discarded electronic equipment, clothes and other fabrics seem like they would be fairly innocuous—but guess again. Textiles make up over 5 percent (by volume) of material ending up in landfills, and they don’t break down. Maggie Erlich was at the Co-op for Earth Day with an answer to that problem. Along with Megan Stasi, she runs an organization called Up-Stitch.
Established in 2017, Up-Stitch is partnering with the Albany Art Room. They collect unwanted fabrics and yarn and sell it at bargain prices to people who will use it in knotting, sewing, and crafting projects. They have been collecting materials at the Co-op and other locations. It didn’t take long to accumulate over 15 bins of yarn and a mountain of fabric. While there is currently no physical location for an Up-Stitch store, pop-up sales are planned for several locations, including the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, next September.
Up-Stitch has collaborated with the Capital Region BOCES Career and Technical Education Center in an educational project about the human side of the textile industry. Students are exposed to a simulated sweatshop, which is then contrasted with a more autonomous and rewarding production model. Another service, a community lending library, is in the works too. Members will be able to borrow specialty tools such as pinking shears for special projects.
Up-Stitch accepts fabrics, household linens, notions, buttons, zippers, patterns, sewing and knitting books, yarn, knitting needles, and crochet hooks. Their collection sites are located at the Albany Art Room, the Arts Center of the Capital Region (Troy), and Good Shepherd Lutheran Church (Loudonville).