In keeping with the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s theme of Celebrate 100!, Community Living Algoma is proud to announce that their Community Recycling Depot, located at 285 Wilson St., is celebrating its 100th transport load of recycled electronics! Read all about it on the Sootoday.com website.
Meanwhile, Kathleen Brosemer, long-time Clean North stalwart, scribed this wonderfully entertaining tale of how Clean North started up e-waste collection in the wake of Y2K.
Bring Out Your Dead!
By Kathleen Brosemer
Remember Y2K? Some felt it was a lot of hype over nothing, but the fact that it meant “nothing” was actually a tribute to those dedicated, IT persnickety folks who worked so carefully in the years and months leading up to the date to make sure that “nothing” happened and that civilization did not collapse.
Something happened at Clean North's offices, though, despite our great IT volunteers: In the week after the new year, our old computers gradually gave up the ghost, as their BIOS failed.
When you're the local environmental group and have made your reputation trying to ensure everyone recycles everything possible, what do you do with seven dead computers?
We couldn't just throw them out; we had to find a way to recycle them.
And then it occurred to us: If we had seven dead computers, hundreds or thousands of them had to be stashed in closets and back offices all over town. While we were searching for a way to recycle ours, why not try to help everybody?
And so, BOYD (Bring Out Your Dead Computers) was born. We found a recycler, a hauler, and a location and announced a date in spring 2000. Our young volunteers named the event after a Monty Python sketch. As it was the first time we'd tried this, we had no idea how much material we would collect or whether we would have enough room in the truck to haul it away.
But has total ignorance of what we were getting ourselves into ever stopped this intrepid band of greenies when there is a planet to save? Heck no!
Our first event was held at the John Rhodes arena, on one of the ice pads that was being freshened up with new paint so the ice was out. We had fun, no one got hurt, we saved some computers to give to other charities, and we even sold a bit of material that came in that was still useful. Nick from the city met me at the door to see what we were up to, and I asked about doing it again “next year.”
He replied, “Sure, but do you want to wait a whole year?”
We decided to try to reuse equipment if possible, not just recycle, and to do that we needed to recruit a different category of volunteers. We needed people with hard skills in technology who would recognize what they were looking at and know what to do with it.
Over the seven years that we were to do this, twice per year, we developed a marvellous cadre of technical volunteers. It became one of the great joys of each event, to gather this group together for 24 hours of spirited, sometimes frantic, activity. Many of them only volunteered for us for this one event, while a few came to join in on other work. I still see them around town and love stopping for a chat and catching up with their lives. The fun we shared during BOYD are great memories.
We had some trials and tribulations. One was location–we struggled with several strange and wonderful places after the arena, including a couple of empty stores and even a church, before settling on the old PUC building on Second Line. With a truck loading dock, washrooms, and lots and lots of floor space, it was ideal.
Another was the public perception that what they were bringing us had great value and our volunteers were hoarding it for themselves. When discussing this with the technical group, I was so warmed when they decided the volunteers should pay the same price anyone else would pay for an item: fair market value, no discount for the time and skills they were generously sharing.
Of course, it was also hugely amusing to see how excited the younger set became about the old junk that arrived. Enormous piles with no market value at all went home with them. We used to joke that the parent signoff should include this statement: “I have discussed with my young person the amount of junk he/she is allowed to bring home.”
We raised some good coin during the BOYD days. Each semi-annual event brought in a couple thousand dollars through sales of refurbished equipment, enough to pay the expenses of the downtown storefront (sans staff) for one to three months. When we started, that financial reward was a great motivator; it came at a time when keeping the doors open was a struggle.
We also obtained some great stuff for the Clean North office. We were able to upgrade our equipment from the discards of banks, insurance companies, and the like, as we didn't need the latest-and-greatest. Their old stuff was plenty new to us!
Another thorny issue: where to take the materials and how to get it there. It was important to us that we deal with a reputable recycler who would guarantee that none of our stuff went overseas, where we had heard of bad practices that put recycling workers’ health at risk.
It was also important that we not take financial risks in doing this–we needed a recycler who would take the material without charging us and a hauler who would do the transport gratis. We did encounter the occasional unpleasant surprise–like the time a recycler who had promised to pay the freight reneged on us and left us with a bill to pay. But we eventually found the transport company of our dreams: TransProvincial Freight. Those lovely people were a joy to work with, always laughing and friendly no matter what we asked.
Move a truck? Sure! Bring a second truck? No problem! Stand ready to bring a third truck, late on a Saturday, if we need it? Let us know!
One time they left us a trailer at a school parking lot so we could load old equipment the school board had stashed there. Midway through loading, I saw the trailer's forward stabilizers had sunk into the parking lot blacktop! And not just a few inches; they had punched right through the surface. and the trailer was listing badly.
I cringed as I called our friend at TransProvincial to give him this bad news, saying the feet had sunk into the parking lot.
His response—“Trailers have FEET?”—still makes me smile. Nothing fazed these guys.
Does it sound like I miss this event? Well I do! It was a lot of work, backbreaking work. Ever spend two 10-hour days picking up and carrying old CRT monitors around a room? I was always exhausted at the end, and I was not alone! But it was so much fun, with much camaraderie and respect for the diverse skills we assembled to carry it off.
Why don't we still do this? Besides the hard work, that is. It seemed that no matter how much publicity we orchestrated, some still didn't get the news. In the two weeks after each event, our office was flooded with calls asking when the event would take place as the caller had equipment to drop off. Callers would demand to know how I'd publicized it, as they hadn't seen anything.
I'd reply: two radio stations’ PSAs, radio talk show, local TV news, cable TV rollover, cable TV spot, newspaper articles and community listings, front page photo in the weekly paper, posters all over town, high school morning announcements, church bulletins…eventually the caller would just quietly say, “oh.”
When Community Living Algoma considered opening a year-round drop-off depot, it was obvious that would be a good thing. We didn't have the volunteer firepower to do this; two events a year was enough for us. But after seven years, the amounts we were taking in were only increasing; there was clearly a need and demand that we could not meet. So we worked with CLA to help launch their program and turned it over to them.
I miss it, but I don't miss the sore feet!