Michael Rae with phones to be recycled.

Got e-waste?

When lightning took out almost 70 percent of the JCCC phone system on May 25, the college moved quickly to restore phone service.

A planned shift to a Voice over Internet Protocol phone system was accelerated, and new phones began arriving in offices by the dozens.

And that’s when Michael Rea’s work kicked in.

Rea, the college’s recycling coordinator, knew that with every new phone that arrived, an old one would be carted away. His goal? Keep the 1,500-plus phones out of the landfill.

Fortunately, Rea already had some experience with recycling old phones. The college had started the shift to the VoIP system last fall, and replaced 425 phones. Rea’s work kept those phones out of the landfill, and he knew he could do the same on the larger scale required for the unexpected replacements.

Rea approached both tasks with the overall JCCC recycling goal of finding the highest and best use for used goods. That meant researching to see if the old phones could be sold or donated to another group.

Unfortunately, they couldn’t.

That left e-waste recycling as the highest and best use for the phones, and it’s an option that Rea knows well.

In 2011, the college recycled 279,000 pounds of material, including 4,293 pounds of e-waste, which Rea defines as anything that has a power cord or power running through it. That includes cell phones, computer cables, keyboards, mice, TVs, radios and old college phones.

Some of the college’s e-waste goes to the college’s reusable office supply exchange room, which gives unwanted items from one office a second home in another.

Other e-waste is donated to other organizations for their use. Cell phones gathered through e-waste recycling, for example, are given to Safehome, a domestic violence shelter in Johnson County.

Some e-waste goes to e-waste recyclers like Unicor, an agency that provides job skills training to inmates confined in federal prisons. The organization’s full-service recycling program in Leavenworth accepts a veritable alphabet of e-waste, from audio/visual equipment to X-boxes. Unicor was the destination for the unused phones, Rea said.

Explaining why it’s important to keep e-waste out of landfills, Rea points to the heavy metals inside the plastic, which could pollute groundwater.

In addition, some of the heavy metals are valuable. E-waste recyclers can capture gold and other metals by smelting, Rea said.

That’s prompted him to set aside some items like computer cables, which have copper running through them. The cables are sold to a recycler who then strips the plastic and sells the copper.

Awareness of the potential of e-waste recycling has grown since Rea started work in the Center for Sustainability in 2010. Employees in the audio-visual and housekeeping departments are likely to call him when they have goods that could be recycled.

And Rea is hoping that the awareness of e-waste recycling efforts will increase as he installs e-waste recycling containers around campus. Currently, e-waste can be dropped off in a filing cabinet located outside the JCCC bookstore, in the Center for Sustainability offices, room 305 of the Carlsen Center, or across from the help desk in 271 of the Regnier Center.