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  November/December 2006
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One Small Step: Screen Saver
November/December 2006

Alexander Lin Westerly, Rhode Island
Student, age 13

"I saw an article in the newspaper about e-waste, and I began thinking about what I could do. Since computers and other electronics contain lots of heavy metals and chemicals, it's really bad for them to be thrown away. Monitors can contain four to eight pounds of lead each, and once one goes into a landfill, it can sink to the bottom and the lead can get into the water.

"I got ten other students together, and we sent out a survey to the schools so that kids could ask their parents if they had old computers they didn't need. Lots of people said yes, but only 13 percent knew what to do with them. We also asked if anyone needed a computer. We matched the people who had old computers with 150 people who needed them, so every student who needed a computer at home got one for free!

"Our group went to the town council to get the word out because it broadcasts on public TV. We even made a PowerPoint presentation. We set up a recycling bin where families could put their old electronics. Then we wrote a resolution to ban the dumping of e-waste and require safe recycling--and our town passed it! Next, we went to hearings and got the state to pass a law just like the one in our town. I think people took us more seriously than adults because they never see kids at the legislature.

"E-waste is a new problem, and it's only going to grow unless everyone does their part. Large electronics companies are making new products with less metals. An LCD [liquid-crystal display] computer screen uses only 25 percent of the energy of the old screens, and it doesn't have lead. But if you get a new one, don't just throw out the old one!" --interview by Orli Cotel

WHERE OLD COMPUTERS GO Only about 10 percent of obsolete computers are currently recycled in the United States, which means that more than 2.5 million tons of electronic waste are dumped into landfills each year, according to the EPA.

Read the text of the Westerly ordinance at Learn about recycling electronics at

photo by Laura Barisonzi, used with permission

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