Dear EarthTalk: I work for an office equipment company selling copiers, fax machines, computers and printers. Each year new models come out making old ones obsolete. As a result, we have loads of trade-ins with nowhere to go. What can we do with this old equipment? — Jeff P., Worcester, MA
Electronic waste, or “e-waste” as it’s called, is a growing problem in the United States and abroad, as obsolete or broken computers and other electronic equipment are taking up increasingly precious amounts of landfill space and potentially leaking hazardous substances into surrounding ecosystems.
The nonprofit Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition reports that 70 percent of the heavy metals in U.S. landfills are from discarded electronics—even though the e-waste itself accounts for only two percent of the trash by volume. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that Americans trash two million tons of unwanted electronics each year—six times the amount they recycle. To make matters worse, U.S. companies often ship old equipment to poor nations whose landfills and incinerators are ill equipped, subjecting already struggling populations to lead, cadmium, beryllium, and other contaminants.
So what can be done? If your old units still work but have merely been eclipsed by newer models, then by all means donate them to a needy cause that will either put them to good use or resell them to help fund their programs. You’ll earn a tax deduction for a charitable donation and, by keeping the equipment alive, prevent the manufacture of new units and thus, if ever so slightly, reduce the footprint of your operations.
But not every charity accepts old equipment, and no one wants to spend all day calling around to find one that does. A good place to look, then, is Goodwill, which will accept your equipment and then sell it through any one of its 1,500 retail stores across the country. Proceeds fund programs to help the disabled, illiterate, homeless, and those on welfare by providing job training and placement programs. The Salvation Army runs similar programs and also typically accepts donated old office equipment.
Another option is to donate your equipment to needy schools, either directly or via a service like iLoveSchools.com, which helps teachers find free supplies and equipment for their classrooms. The National Cristina Foundation also matches donated technology with needy schools and nonprofits. Also, the website GreatNonprofits.org maintains a list of charities in need of various types of office equipment. You can also offload equipment via Freecycle, a free service that helps find homes for unwanted stuff.
While finding a new home for your old gear is preferable, recycling is also an option. Recyclers harvest parts from old equipment that can be reused or resold. Several websites, including My Green Electronics, E-cycling Central, and Earth911, list electronics recyclers across the U.S. Some of these vendors will charge a small fee to recycle an item for you; others may do it for free. Also, Office Depot, Staples and some other stores will take back used electronics—even if not purchased there—usually for a small fee.
CONTACTS: Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, www.svtc.org; Goodwill, www.goodwill.org; Salvation Army, www.salvationarmy.org; iLoveSchools.com, www.iloveschools.com; National Cristina Foundation, www.cristina.org; GreatNonprofits.org, www.greatnonprofits.org; Freecycle, www.freecycle.org; E-cycling Central, www.ecyclingcentral.com; Earth911, www.earth911.org; Office Depot, www.officedepot.com; Staples, www.staples.com.
Dear EarthTalk: I see a lot of “healthy snacks” being marketed for kids that list “natural flavors” but don’t identify them. Should I use these products? — John Stein, Methuen, MA
Beloved food writer Michael Pollan recommends steering clear of foods that advertise their green attributes on their label. According to his line of reasoning, why give a child a fruit roll-up when you can give him or her a piece of fruit? Only processed foods need to advertise what’s natural about them, whereas an apple speaks for itself, providing wholesome nutrition without the need for marketing hype.
But most of us depend on the occasional packaged or processed food, so choosing between the lesser of two evils sometimes has to be the way to go. If a product lists natural ingredients on its label—anything from real fruits, vegetables and nuts to cereals, grains and other healthy foods you can recognize without a food dictionary on hand—it’s probably better than a food reliant on artificial flavors and sweeteners.
“One way for your kids to enjoy healthy snacks is to get them started on naturally sweet foods,” says Christine Steendahl of Kid Approved Meals, which sells menus and shopping lists to parents looking for guidance in meal preparation. “Since most kids crave sweets…naturally sweet foods such as fruits are perfect,” she says. Real bananas, oranges, apples, cherries, strawberries and other fruits are popular with most kids. “You can mix in yogurt or even make a fruit smoothie with some milk and a drop of chocolate or other natural flavors,” Steendahl suggests.
“One thing to recognize about children is that if they try enough types of natural and healthy snacks, they will find one that they enjoy,” says Steendahl. “The problem is that many times parents give up trying to find the snacks that their kids like and settle for popular junk foods instead.” She stresses the importance of teaching kids which snacks to eat and which to avoid early in life so that they can sidestep obesity problems altogether.
Nuts and dry cereals, for example, are good alternatives to chips and other junk food.
According to California-based pediatrician and author William Sears, who markets his own line of healthy kids snacks called Lunchbox Essentials, parents should make sure that any snack foods they give their family members provide both fiber and protein, which give the feeling of fullness, and taste good as well. He adds that parents should learn to read labels so they can tell which products contain hydrogenated oils, artificial colors, preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup—all of which should be avoided.
As a last resort for especially finicky kids, parents can find packaged snacks that might look like junk food but are actually healthy and nutritious, including certain brands of fruit roll-ups and granola bars. Look in the snack aisle of your local natural foods market for such items, and don’t be afraid to ask store personnel for recommendations. It’s important to take your child’s nutrition seriously. Whether he or she ever realizes it, you are setting patterns that will enable them to live healthier and longer lives.
EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E – The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.
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