Last spring, teacher Amanda Salzman challenged the seniors in her Ecoliteracy class to develop projects that would benefit the community and the environment. After surveying students about their interests, Salzman organized a panel of community speakers to come meet with small groups of students as advisors for a range of projects from food justice, environmental media, waste reduction and others.
Two students, Tommy Elder and exchange student Samuele Tomassome decided to take on the issue of electronic waste, specifically the types of ewaste that students generate.
To learn more about their peers consumption and disposal habits, they developed a carefully crafted survey. While they were not surprised to discover that teenagers run through a high number of cell phones, they were shocked to hear what was happening with old cell phones. "Most people just put them in a drawer, 'just in case.' Some people reported having as many as eight old cell phones, chargers and related accessories just sitting in boxes and drawers at their houses."
Elder and Tomassome learned that the components of cell phones are recyclable and contain valuable minerals. Each phone that is properly recycled reduced the demand for minerals mined across the globe.
With survey data in hand, the two students brainstormed a range of ideas. Initially, they hoped to work with cell phone vendors near the school's campus to offer student discounts for new phones when old phones were redeemed, but a variety of hurdles sidetracked that idea.
"Eventually, we decided to organize an e-waste event on campus," Elder explains. "We researched different e-waste collectors and decided to work with a local company called Green Citizen." Green Citizen emphasizes ethical and responsible e-waste collection and processing. They also help community members repair electronics to extend their useful lives.
To encourage students and teachers to bring old cell phones to campus, Tomassome and Elder organized a two-day lunch time collection drive- offering fresh made smoothies in exchange for used phones. To further emphasize the environmental theme, students used a pedal powered smoothie maker from Rock the Bike.
Serendipitously, when Tomassome and Elder went classroom to classroom on campus to announce the event, many teachers responded by asking them to also collect out of date and broken classroom electronics like computers, printers and televisions.
"I think this was a really successful event for Berkeley High," said Tomassome. "We raised awareness and collected over a ton of materials for proper recycling and disposal."