Tagged: Recycling

Guest Article: Junk Your Car and Give Something Back

Below is a guest article from Daniel Frank of Giveacar, a British charity that takes donations of cars and either scraps them in an environmentally sound way or auctions off usable cars to raise money for other charities. Groups like this exist in the U.S. as well and should always be on your radar when contemplating getting rid of a vehicle.

Junk your car and give something back: how scrapping your clunker can help lead the way to a more sustainable future

These days, nearly all the choices we make in our consumer purchases – whether they are about our home (or the things we put in it), the clothing we wear, or the food we eat – have a potential impact on our future and our environment.

So too with cars. Given the environmental concerns surrounding increasing car sales, when your current car is at the end of its working life, what’s the best decision to make? Do you sell it for scrap and buy a new, more environmentally friendly model? Do you sell it for scrap, take the ultimate test, and try to live without a car at all?

Over in the UK, where – especially in urban areas – more and more people are choosing to give up their cars, one man, after being inspired by US-based initiatives, has come up with an option for getting rid of your old motor in the most environmentally friendly way possible and giving to a good cause at the same time.  With membership of car clubs nearly doubling from 64,679 in 2009 to 112,928 in 2010, who knows, perhaps people really are beginning to come around to the idea of a more sustainable future when it comes to car-reliance.

Giveacar’s founder Tom Chance started up his car donation fundraising organization – a first in the UK – after realizing two things: firstly, that there was an urgent need to address the environmental consequences of unregulated car disposal in Britain, and secondly, that the car scrap market was an untapped, potentially invaluable source of revenue for charities.

Giveacar offers a free service to its customers. They arrange for the collection and environmentally responsible scrapping and recycling of end-of-life motors. After a small deduction of administrative costs, the proceeds then go to a charity of the owner’s choice.

Over 2 million vehicles come off British roads every year, but half of these are left unaccounted for. They are not scrapped to environmental requirements, which stipulate that all cars must be disposed of at an Authorized Treatment Facility, where hazardous waste and pollutants are safely recovered or removed before the shell is sent off for recycling.

Many of the de-commissioned motors that are unaccounted for end up posing a significant environmental problem, as they are often left abandoned in driveways or by the road, leaching toxins and heavy metals into the ground, while oils and fluids are poured down sewers and drains. What’s more, some are illegally re-introduced onto the roads (after being supposedly junked by a dealer), leading to notable air pollution, not to mention safety, concerns.

Some 90% of the vehicles Giveacar receives are scrapped, and all to the highest possible environmental standards in authorized scrap yards, meaning that many heavy polluting cars are taken off the roads forever. In cases where a car has not reached the end of its life, and in recognition of the environmental costs of producing a new car, it is auctioned, thus generating more funds for charity.

Since it began last year, the Giveacar scheme has raised over $300,000 for over 250 charities, and has taken thousands of heavy polluters off Britain’s roads.

Old Laptop – RIP

RIP: Recycled in Peace. I battled the sweltering heat over lunch today and dropped my brother’s old laptop off at a temporary electronics recycling center downtown. The heat index at time of disposition was exactly 100 degrees according to The Weather Channel. The “center” is very temporary, as you can see in the photo below, and is only being operated today. But, there are other drop-off days scheduled around town.WITS Recycling - 2009.06.24

Today’s effort is being operated by a local group called WITS, which stands for Web Innovation and Technology Services. Sounds like a Silicon Valley start-up, no? Well, it’s actually far more than that. WITS’ mission is:

We recycle/refurbish electronic/computers and surplus equipment from local/national businesses and residents by fixing or replacing what may be broken and putting it back into the community for educational use. 

This keeps the used equipment out of the landfills, and provides those in need with the technology to accomplish their educational/career goals.

We also offer training in many areas for students of all ages and capabilities for internships and resume experiences and the chance to teach their skills to other students with hands-on experiences.

Anything that WITS cannot reuse is recycled appropriately at our recycling facility. WITS has a 0% landfill policy which has been able to be followed since we began recycling.

Funny thing is that the brochure I was handed at the drop-off location has a few other “mission” statement-type passages on it. Three of them caught my eye:

  1. “Building communities by bridging the digital divide.”
  2. “Providing innovative no/low-cost high-level technology training and free computers to low-income and underserved populations, while recycling safely to save landfills.”
  3. “By reusing redundant and obsolete technology, we are able to create training and re-use opportunities for underserved and low-income population and non-profits. By appropriately recycling and demanufacturing at our facility, we can create value for business, residents and the environment.”

Yes, the mission is a bit cumbersome, but the group’s tag line sums up their efforts quite nicely: “Building Communities through Reuse, Recycling and Education”. Can’t beat that.

We often forget that technology often has an impact on more than just our physical environment. Computers reduce paper usage but also use tremendous amounts of power. Socially, technology can help the disenfranchised catch up to rest of society but it can also increase the gap in ability, knowledge and opportunity at a breathtaking pace; consider how much technology is integrated into everything you do and how your ability to understand and use the technology evolved over years of access and practice. How can someone without that same exposure be expected to compete?

WITS is not going to solve this problem by itself, but the efforts being made by the organization are hopeful. Remember, you can either take your old computer and throw it in the trash, leaving plastic and a whole host of toxic chemicals to interact with Mother Nature. Or, you can recycle your old electronics at a place like WITS, knowing that your garbage will not only reduce your impact on the environment but also expose underserved populations to technology, give them work, and help create a more equal society. It’s your choice.

Tailor Your Wardrobe

My tailor and I have philosophical differences about two-way zippers. I don’t even know if that’s their technical name but you know what I’m talking about, right? Zippers with two thing-a-ma-bobbies on ‘em so you can zip the coat closed with the top ‘ma-bobbie and then open it from the bottom with the bottom ‘ma-bobbie. Great for sitting.

Why would a tailor, a veritable master of the use of fabrics, not like two-way zippers? Perhaps he’s a purist, or even a Luddite, and thinks even a single zipper is an abomination. The zipper led to the gear and the gear led to the automobile! Clothes should be tied on god damn it!

For the record, my tailor is a soft-spoken gentlemen who owns a shop in the Benton Park West neighborhood of St. Louis. I’ve only used him twice, so please don’t think he stitches custom-made clothing for me. I had the aforementioned two-way zipper put onto a fleece whose original zipper had bit it and had a pair of way-too-long jeans hemmed that I got for five freakin’ dollars from Old Navy. He did a great job on both.

I own too many clothes and tend to replace things more frequently than I should. I’m also fairly certain these clothes reproduce on their own but no one will buy that theory. I wonder if I covered each item in a dry cleaner style plastic wrap these would act as clothing condoms. So . . . when I decided to repair my fleece instead of just buying a new one, I felt a small bit of pride. The tailor charged almost what a new fleece would have cost – this one was of the Target variety – but there was nothing wrong with it besides the zipper issue.

What’s the point of this rambling? As I’ve mentioned before, I receive The Green Life newsletter from Sierra Club. In a recent series of posts the newsletter has focused on greening one’s wardrobe. The manufacture and distribution of clothing not a very green process. First of all, most of it is made overseas and needs to be shipped to the U.S. Second, the materials used are generally not very sustainable. The implications of putting people in developing nations out of work is a topic for another post. Admittedly, in the most simplistic way, I’m prioritizing environmental sustainability over social sustainability.

So, what should you do to green your wardrobe? Two things: buy vintage and take note of materials. The first idea is not a new one. Resale shops are becoming more common every day and they offer all styles and qualities of clothing. Frequent them and you’ll be surprised. I’m going to make a more concerted effort to preserve the clothing I have and buy “new” clothing in a more sustainable way. The second idea requires a little education, the bulk of which I’ll leave to the Sierra Club:

Buying used is greener, but if you do buy new clothes, at least make sure they’re made of sustainable material. Bamboo and hemp (much more comfy than they sound) are planet-friendly because both plants quickly regenerate and are easily grown without pesticides (hemp’s downside is that it must be imported since it’s illegal to grow in the U.S.). Organic cotton is another decent option; though cotton is a water-intensive crop, the organic variety at least forgoes the polluting chemicals. There have been developments in fabrics made of recycled stuff, including plastic bottles (Revenge Is is super soft) and other fibers (try Gramicci). Buying clothes from companies that donate to environmental charities and manufacturers that offset are other ways to vote green with your wallet. What to avoid? Synthetic fibers (polyester, vinyl, nylon), animal products (leather, suede), and cellulose materials (rayon). For more, check out Lucky‘s April issue.

Make note of the what to avoid list. Each material on this list is terrible in a different way; some require oil and some are produced through very violent and terribly resource-heavy processes. I would add wool to this list as well. Most of it is sourced in a way that’s worse than leather and suede, as sheep are filled with drugs to over produce wool and are repeatedly subject to misery and torture as opposed to just dying once for the sake of a pair of shoes or a purse. I’m guilty of owning some of these synthetic fabrics but am doing my best to replace them – when necessary – with more sustainably made clothing. I hope you do the same.