Hundreds use opportunity to junk old computers

Hundreds use opportunity to junk old computers

Michigan interfaith alliance’s e-waste collection nets 300 tons.
Jane Greer
technological refuse
technological refuse
technological refuse


An interfaith alliance of nine denominations and 120 religious groups, including a Unitarian Universalist congregation, collected more than 300 tons of e-waste—200 more than expected—on Earth Day, April 22, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In a campaign called “Clean Sweep,” the interfaith alliance, known as the Earth Keepers, along with environmental groups and the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community collected used computers, TVs, stereos, fax machines, and cell phones at 27 drop sites across Michigan’s 300-mile-wide Upper Peninsula.

The 50-member Marquette UU Congregation took part in the campaign, with three members working at drop sites and many more taking advantage of the opportunity to unload old computer equipment.

As a denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations has long advocated for ecological responsibility, passing nine resolutions on environmental protection at its annual business meeting since 1966. One of the liberal denomination’s Seven Principles explicitly promotes “respect for the interdependent web of all existence, of which we are a part.”

The disposal of used computers and other electronic equipment poses a big environmental challenge, said Carl Lindquist, head of the Central Lake Superior Watershed Partnership, and one of the organizers of the campaign. “A lot of computers have dangerous components including lead, mercury, and arsenic. There aren’t many options for their disposal.”

Gail Griffith, a member of the Marquette UU Congregation, agreed. “There’s a problem not knowing what is hazardous,” she said, “and then where to take it and when. The Clean Sweep project was really something waiting to be done.”

Response to the campaign, which ran from 9 a.m. until noon, was overwhelming. Griffith took a tour of the four Marquette sites early in the morning of the campaign. “People had already brought tons of stuff! It was mind-boggling!”

“Never in our wildest dreams,” said Lindquist, “did we expect this much.”

Classic Computer Recovery, an EPA-approved recycling facility in Garden City, Mich., is collecting the used e-waste, stored in an airport hangar. All of the e-waste will be refurbished or recycled using EPA-approved methods, Lindquist said.

The northern Michigan UU congregation was only one of the hundreds of UU congregations nationwide taking part in Earth Day observances and actions.

The Earth Keepers was set up three years ago by the Rev. John Magnuson, student pastor at Northern Michigan University in Marquette and a founder of the nonprofit Cedar Tree Institute, who wanted to create an organization melding religious values with environmental stewardship. The organization, funded in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, includes the Central Lake Superior Watershed Partnership, the Cedar Tree institute, a student chapter at Northern Michigan University, and the faith-based groups.

The Earth Keepers is setting up an “Adopt a Watershed” program in which member groups can study the watershed area in which they’re living and determine which environmental problems they’d like to tackle. “Watershed management covers almost every environmental issue,” said Lindquist citing pollution prevention, environmental restoration, erosion control, and habitat improvement as some of the areas that groups can focus on. The Marquette congregation is planning to take part.

As their project last year, the Earth Keepers collected 46 tons of hazardous household waste including pesticides, paint, mercury, and car batteries.

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