The Lower East Side Ecology Center opened their e-waste warehouse in Gowanus, Brooklyn just last week, and Inhabitat got an inside look at the new facility. The permanent facility will complement the organization's ongoing electronic waste collection events throughout the city, serving as a storage and sorting depot where anyone can bring their old computers, televisions, stereos, and the like to ensure that the precious metals, plastics, and toxins inside are properly extracted and recycled. Because of New York State's recently passed Electronic Equipment Recycling and Reuse Act, proper recycling of electronic products will gradually become law for businesses and private citizens, making spaces such as this crucial to the process. Click ahead to see more from our tour of the space and learn more about the e-waste sorting process.
The warehouse, located at 469 President Street, accepts computers, televisions, monitors, radios, printers, cell phones, and most other electronics. The facility, and the Lower East Side Ecology Center’s recycling program in general, does not accept media, such as floppies, cd’s, zips, VHS tapes, or home appliances such as refrigerators, microwaves, air conditioning units.
When equipment is dropped off at the warehouse, owners must fill out forms describing all items delivered, and they may acquire a tax deduction for their donations. Items are organized by type, with special attention paid to toxic metals such as lead in CRT (cathode ray tube) televisions. Each pile of materials is bundled and made ready to ship to a recycling facility. Computers and televisions are sent to WeRecycle! in Mount Vernon, NY, where materials are separated and shredded to create more manageable scraps of plastic and metal. All of WeRecycle’s material processing happens in the United States, under strict auditing and vetting, to prevent the contamination of soil and water that is prevalent in metal processing facilities and dumpsites in the developing world.
The space itself is a simple industrial shell, which reduces operating cost and energy usage to a minimum. Some natural light streams in through skylights, while High Intensity Discharge lighting complements the natural illumination. The 2-story tall space is occupied by a rows of shelves that almost reach the roof; during our visit most of the shelves laid empty, but the Ecology Center expects shelves to fill between each outgoing load. A loading dock is occupied by the Center’s compost truck, which sometimes serves as transport for electronic waste from collection events.
At the back of the warehouse, a small education center and art exhibit can be found. In this room, visitors can learn more about different types of recycling techniques and rules, take in some upcycled trash art, and even appreciate a collection of antique and rare electronics saved from the shredder by warehouse employees. This facility serves not just as a step in the recycling process, but as an agent to change general perceptions of waste and resources.
The LES Ecology Center’s new warehouse represents a crucial step in the development of a new solid waste management paradigm in New York City. With the rising cost of raw material and fuel for intensive processing, manufacturers are increasingly looking to mine pre-used products for metals and plastics. New York City, with its high population density and gadget-inclined residents constantly looking for the next product release, can play an important role in this new market in the United States. LES Ecology Center and WeRecycle! are working to capitalize on this opportunity while maintaining responsible stewardship of the natural and human environment. The city’s residents can help in this process by properly disposing of their waste at the warehouse, which is open Tuesday through Saturday each week. With the help of organizations such as the LES Ecology Center, we can easily do our part to reduce NYC’s waste stream and our collective impact on the environment.
photos © Leonel Lima Ponce for Inhabitat