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State Record Set
NIH Celebrates Huge Turnout for First E-Cycling Event

NIH held its first-ever and highly successful electronics recycling (e-cycling) event at White Flint Mall in Rockville on Apr. 12 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Open to government employees and the public, the event provided an opportunity to recycle all types of personally owned electronics ranging from cell phones to televisions and computers.

The event was originally going to be held at the Bldg. 31F parking lot on campus, but had to be cancelled on short notice when the Iraq War started and the security level was raised to "orange plus." The event organizers with the NIH Division of Environmental Protection and the Maryland department of the environment (MDE) then had to scramble to find a new site at a non-government facility. Fortunately, the operators of White Flint Mall generously offered use of one of their parking lots for the collection site and provided free advertising for the event on their web site and on the electronic marquee sign at the entrance to the mall.

A truckload of dead TVs

As soon as arrangements for use of the new site were confirmed, the organizers had to "un-cancel" the event and restart the publicity. Web sites, posters and flyers had to be changed and redistributed in an attempt to get the word out to all prospective participants about the new location — a daunting task with little time left before the event. Organizers feared that with all the changes, participants would be discouraged or get lost trying to find the new collection site and the turnout would be poor. They could not have been more wrong.

The first clue to the outcome of the event came well before it officially started — carloads of "e-junk" began arriving at the collection site before it was open. By mid-morning, there were so many cars arriving that one service line couldn't handle the traffic, so three lines were set up. And they kept coming. By mid-day, all three lines were busy and at times backed up clear to the street. And they kept coming. Finally, it was closing time and the exhausted event volunteers thought they could slow down and start packing the materials away for transport. But the cars kept coming. Later, when there was time to gather up statistics, it was found that an estimated 670 deliveries of electronics were made that day. Most of them came in by cars and trucks — 644 of them; the remainder was via bicyclists, pedestrians and even a couple of backpackers. A total of 34 tons of equipment was delivered. According to Jim Richmond, MDE representative, this set a new statewide record for the largest amount of recyclable materials collected in a single day event.

Bins of e-cycled material fill lot.

Most of the equipment collected will be disassembled in facilities located in the U.S. and recycled. Some equipment that is in working condition and not obsolete will be refurbished and donated or sold. For example, 103 cell phones and related accessories collected at the event will be turned in to the Wireless Foundation to be reconfigured as emergency call phones and donated to abuse-prevention programs.

Few would have predicted the potential adverse environmental consequences of the Computer Age. Gazing over the small mountains of dead TVs, PCs, printers and other electronics, Ed Rau, NIH's coordinator of the event, mused that just 10 years ago most of this toxic "detritus of technology" did not even exist. In the next 10 years, several hundred million more computers will become obsolete and require disposal. Clearly the junk will keep on coming.

Ed Rau of NIH's Division of Environmental Protection sorts through some 34 tons of electronic detritus collected at NIH's first "e-cycling" event.

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