Electronic waste

Electronic waste is a growing issue throughout the world. Every new computer, phone, and TV adds to a the already vast supply of electronic waste. Many electronics have potentially harmful things in them such as cadmium, silver, and other heavy metals. If these are not disposed of properly they can result in environmental pollution resulting in impacts to human health such as cancer.

Electronic waste is one of the fastest growing segments of our nation’s waste stream. This makes sense as our technology growth rate continues to accelerate exponentially. This shouldn’t be a secret to you if you think about all of the electronic devices around your household. Electronic e-waste is a catch all for all of the broken, unusable, or outdated/obsolete electronic devices, components, and materials that we own. E-waste also encompasses items that can be e-cycled (electronics that are going to be reused, resold, salvaged, or recycled). Electronic waste has been a nationwide issue for many years and is also an issue here in Hoonah. Some businesses have taken the opportunity to make money from e-waste and that market is growing rapidly. E-waste Management market worldwide is projected to grow by 14.8 Million Metric Tons – it’s hard to comprehend that number, but it’s a lot!!

The occurring problems with electronic w aste are immense: when electronic waste is burned or put in an open environment it can release toxic materials. Some of those toxic components are Chromium, Lead, and polyvinyl chloride. These harsh components pose a serious threat to our citizens of Hoonah. Some of those threats are the smoke from the waste can cause lung damage, some of the other metals can leak into our drinking water, the harsh materials can lead to cancer, brain damage, or heart problems. When you start to recycle in your community those risks start to plummet and you start to see the changes to your environment.

We are lucky in Hoonah that the City tries to sort our e-waste from the trash. However, there can be problems here in Hoonah if we store the waste in piles left outside and inside storage containers. when the weather kicks up it tends to release the harsh metals and chemicals into our environment and can cause health issues in our community and to our environment. Recently this year we started taking a stand and beginning the recycling process (called a backhaul) to help make our environment healthier and safer.

In 2019 Hoonah Indian Association’s IGAP program did our first electronic waste backhaul and it was really successful, we accumulated over 8,326.7 LBS of e-waste in 2 months of collection.  We partnered with the City of Hoonah to conduct Hoonah’s first ever electronic waste collection and backhaul event. Since this was all new to us, we attended Zender training focus on e-waste backhaul, fresh from the training we used what we learned and went straight to work collecting and palletizing the electronic waste. Electronic waste has been around for many generations, because of the heavy metals used to make electronics it is very hazardous to the health of the community and to the environment. Many rural communities throughout Alaska due to the high cost to removal, the e-waste from the community tend to burn the electronic waste to save space in their landfill, but when you burn electronic waste it puts off hazardous particles and metals in the air such as lead, plastic, copper, and other harsh materials.  

This summary highlights the results of that project. Our goal in Hoonah is to prevent any further damages to our environment by reducing the amount of electronic waste ending up in the burn pit.  Starting in 2020 we will be working with the City of Hoonah to create a solid waste management plan, this plan will serve as a road map for the city and HIA to work together to efficiently and effectively reduce the solid and compostable waste stream leading to our landfill.

Training and Personal Development

Too prepare for our electronic waste event we attended an E-waste backhaul training hosted by Zinder Group. During this training we learned environmental and health hazards of electronic waste, and how to properly palletize and label the e-waste for shipping. During our training we went on a tour of the Total Reclaim and got to see how they process and organize the waste, and see what they take out of the electronic waste that is not required in the devices such as batteries, hard drives, and other valuable and hazardous parts. One of the key things that we learned from the training is that Gustavus has its own waste processing plant, they have a compacter machine that compresses all of the wires, cans and other waste into a cube that makes it easier to move and store. We also got a chance to see and learn how to do composting, and how to manage a pile of compost. Paul Berry from Gustavus come over and see our process and our progress of our backhaul of the electronic waste and he gave us some tips on how to stack, wrap, and organize the waste on pallets. What I have learned from the electronic waste program is that the packaging process is a lot more labor intensive than we thought and I took away the knowledge on to package the waste properly and the most efficiently.

Hoonah’s Program

Preforming a e-waste collection and backhaul event is no small task and has many moving pieces, to help us successfully conduct Hoonah first e-waste collection and backhaul event we partnered with the City of Hoonah, Alaska Marine Line, SBK Recycling. we went door to door collecting  electronic waste, We collected over 30 box tv’s and we collected a lot of computers, lamps, cameras, game consoles and so much more. With a Conex and a half of palatized e-waste collected, We shipped our electronic waste to SBK Recycling in Tacoma Washington. We collected e waste for a month and a half to net us a grand total of 8,326.7 pounds of e-waste collected and shipped to be recycled.

When we started doing the recycling we started to see a lot of the harsh chemicals and other hazardous materials unfold from moving the waste itself from its location. We took the waste and stored it on pallets in an AML container away from the weather and the rain to prevent any further contamination. We started to see the same occurring issues around in the other community’s and villages here in southeast. The best thing that we did was outreach here in the community.

Lessons Learned from Hoonah’s Program

The best thing that I took away from collecting electronic waste was that it is helping the community stay clean and healthy but also helping sustain our wildlife and preserving and caring for our land.

The hazards behind electronic waste is that when the tv’s and stuff get rained on or even sit under the snow for a long period of time, it releases harsh metal materials such as lead into the streams and our water sources and can even evaporate with the water and be a serious hazard in our community and to our natural resource.   It is highly dangerous to burn your E-waste in the burn pit because when you burn electronic waste, it can release harsh metals in the air such as lead, plastic, and other metals that can be released into the air through combustion. When the wood smoke is released it is carrying those harsh metal particles, which goes into the air and can also settle on peoples homes, equipment, even into your home and it is very hazardous.  When we collect all of the electronic waste it lowers the hazards in the community by 80% and one thing that we realized in the community is that the more waste and garbage in the community the more health risks and symptoms we have to our community members.

Future Programs

In the future, we will be collecting more electronic waste, and we plan to do more outreach to the community. It is important to get our community motivated to help with collecting electronic waste. We would like to get community members involved in the waste collection and ensure they know our door is always  open to ask questions about collection times and other logistics. We will be partnering with Gustavus to help with their electronic waste backhaul and to help our backhaul be more efficient. We are researching several different methods of composting such as standard composting and Verma composting, with the goal of inspiring other communities to get involved with composting and to learn from each other. We would like to thank all of the people who participated in the 2019 electronic waste backhaul. We look forward to doing this backhaul again next year.


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