Eyesore to Showpiece: Another Reason We Do What We Do

For over 100 years into the 1970s the H.W. Carter overall factory was a cornerstone of the community in Lebanon, NH. Sitting just off the town green, it was also a centerpiece of the landscape.

But as in thousands of other communities, times changed, the Carter factory closed, and the structure devolved into an eyesore. In the mid-90s part of the building was leased by the regional Alliance for the Visual Arts. AVA attracted a number of artists to the building’s low rent space, and the old Carter factory became a hub for the local art scene. But it remained a grubby, creaking, leaking, energy-wasting eyesore.

Then in 2001 AVA acquired the building outright, and AVA’s board embraced the idea of a sweeping transformation of the Carter factory into a space that would be not just a community art center, but an example of the best in sustainable, caring design and construction.

IRN had the good fortune to be invited to join the project team as waste manager, and over the course of fourteen months we had the opportunity to witness an amazing renewal. The exterior look of the building kept its original character, with just enough new details to let you know that something special was inside. And inside – probably the most gorgeous and flexible gallery space north of Boston, teaching spaces that host a year-round schedule of classes, and naturally lit studio space for some two dozen artists, along with state-of-the art heating, ventilation, lighting, and plumbing; a green roof; waste-water management, and dozens of other features that amounted to LEED Gold. The project has been honored with multiple awards including the Merit Award for Excellence from PlanNH, the Citation Award in Historic Preservation/Restoration from the AIA Vermont Chapter, and the Excellence in Construction – Historical Renovation award from the Associated Builders & Contractors of VT/NH.

IRN is happy to have made our small contribution in a 97% reuse/recycling rate. But as waste people our favorite thing was AVA’s Waste-to-Art project. As the building was gutted, AVA invited regional artists to muck through the piles of junk left behind from 125 years of making overalls and dungarees – pieces of sewing machines, time clocks, parts of old scales, a 1910 freight elevator, painted and repainted siding – and then go make art. The resulting artworks were assembled into an amazing opening exhibition of sculpture and wall pieces that tied together the history of the old building, AVA’s commitment to sustainability, and their role as a leader in the New England arts community. The exhibit got a LEED innovation credit, but more important it sold out, putting $20,000 into AVA’s bank account. The best use of trash we’ve ever seen.

Take a look at photos of the AVA restoration and Waste-to-Art exhibit at http://picasaweb.google.com/nhmlennon/AVAWasteToArtExhibition2008#.

97% Waste Reduction at Smith College Ford Hall through Deconstruction, Reuse, and Recycling

Smith College’s Ford Hall is a 140,000 square foot brick and steel structure designed house Smith’s engineering, chemistry, and computer science programs. Ford Hall uses sustainable design, construction, and operating elements not only for their environmental and economic benefits, but also as teaching tools. In this light Smith sought to maximize and document the financial costs and benefits of jobsite reuse and recycling as a demonstration for Smith students, faculty, and staff – and for the broader academic community – of what can be accomplished with aggressive and imaginative waste management.

Ford Hall was built on the site of a downtown residential/commercial block that was a local landmark, and its demolition triggered controversy. Deconstruction was an important part of Smith’s response, assuring the community that the affected structures would be recovered and reused. Deconstruction was comprehensive down to interior finishes, furniture and appliances, flooring, trim, mantels, doors, windows, cabinets and casework, kitchen and bath fixtures, exterior benches and landscaping elements (e.g., pavers).

This level of attention carried through to demolition of the remaining shells. “Source separation” – that is, onsite separation of wastes into their constituent components – was practiced as much as possible, yielding homogeneous loads of wood, metals, wood, and ceiling tiles. This practice had no impact on the demolition schedule, and had the double benefit of reducing disposition costs and increasing recycling rates. Similar practices were employed as the new Ford Hall was erected and finished.

When the project wrapped up, IRN had helped Smith and contractor, William A. Berry achieve a 97% reuse and recycling rate. But what Smith really wanted to know was the cost. Had reuse and recycling been cost effective, or were they an expensive environmental add-on?

The Answer: Including the cost of waste management planning and documentation, Berry’s project managers calculated savings of about 25% compared to their budgeted waste disposal cost (that is, the cost without recycling). There was an increase in labor for daily site cleanup, but this was more than offset by the savings in disposal costs. At the end of the project, Berry had kept nearly 2,500 tons of usable materials out of landfill, achieved three LEED points and saved some serious money for itself and its client. And Smith had enduring lesson for its students in the economic value of sustainability, and in the advantages of getting materials back into the economy, and not down into the landfill.

See www.wastemiser.com for a complete case study and documentation of reuse and recycling results.

Electronics Recycling: A Divide With No Way Across

Here’s an article from the Boston Globe on March 2, another article about shady electronics recycling. You can read the whole article at http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/03/02/old_televisions_spark_environmental_dispute/

Nine truck-size shipping containers filled with old televisions from a Brockton recycling company are at the center of an international dispute drawing attention to a major problem in the regulation of hazardous electronic waste: When is a product intended to be reused, and when is it trash?

The containers, shipped to Indonesia by CRT Recycling Inc., were seized by port officials there after an environmental organization staked out the company’s Massachusetts operations and alerted the Indonesian government about a possibly illegal shipment of e-waste.

The cathode-ray tubes in televisions and computer monitors contain more than four pounds of lead, as well as mercury and other toxins…. An international treaty restricts shipments of these tubes for disposal in developing countries.”

“There is enough documented evidence indicating that monitors and other types of electronics shipped under the guise of resale or reuse winds up being disassembled in dangerous conditions,” said Allen Hershkowitz, senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There is so much documentation consumers should assume that unless the material is going abroad [to be repaired under warranty] it will be disassembled.”

Beth Daley in The Boston Globe, March 2, 2010

It would be really nice if these stories were to disappear. But they don’t and they won’t. As long as there’s money to be made shipping electronics offshore to be “reused” or “recycled”, they’ll be shipped offshore. Mark Lennon wrote about that a few years ago. In light of this most recent Globe article, we think it’s worth reprinting:

Electronics Recycling: A Divide With No Way Across

Some ancients will remember Evel Knievel and the Snake River Canyon. Evel tried to jump the canyon and ended up in the drink. There was no way across.

There’s a Snake River Canyon in electronics recycling. On one side are deals to buy old computer and monitors or take them away for free. On the other side are recyclers who charge to recycle old electronic equipment. The gap between the two sides starts at about twenty-five cents a pound and gets wider from there. And there’s no way across.

Make no mistake. If you see an offer to take monitors (or TVs or computers) away for free, or pay you for them, they will be packed in containers and shipped abroad. Maybe to China, maybe to India, maybe to Mexico. Most will get hammered apart for their metal components. They will be handled under labor and environmental conditions that are straight from Charles Dickens. Ultimately what’s left will end up in a ditch or scattered on the landscape.

The alternative – the recycling that starts at about a quarter a pound – destroys the electronics here in the United States. It recovers glass, metals, plastics, and usable components. It is subject to U.S. laws and permit requirements, with appropriate safety and environmental controls. All of this costs money. There’s just no way around the economics.

We know this is true. We have visited dozens of electronics recyclers from coast to coast and from Texas to Iowa. We have chased down the no-cost deals. We’ve visited the sites, we’ve seen the operations. We’ve seen the containers packed for export. We’ve also seen the reputable recyclers, and audited their operations as well. And there just aren’t any exceptions; if the deal is close to zero or better, the electronics are being packed into overseas containers.

Exporting electronics for “recycling” is not, in most cases, illegal. But socially, ethically, and environmentally, it is repulsive. Please call or look for links on IRN’s website, http://www.ir-network.com, if you’d like more information about what happens to electronics when they’re sent overseas.

IRN is getting the best pricing we know of for responsible recycling of monitors and other electronics. The reason is simple: IRN’s clout as a collective. IRN managed nearly 2,000,000 pounds of electronics in 2009. This makes us one of the largest accounts in New England. We get great pricing and service, and we pass those benefits to IRN clients.

If you see a “better” electronics recycling deal, please tell us so we can chase it down. If the deal’s legitimate, we need to know so we can grab that benefit and pass it along to IRN clients. If the deal’s shady, we can let you know and tell you why, but keep your name out of the conversation. We can also get you in for a site audit if that would help your decision-making. If you want to take a no-cost deal, we’ll be happy to talk about the issues and the questions you should ask. But be clear, if it’s a no cost deal, or even close to that, your electronics are headed offshore.

There is in fact a huge gulf between responsible electronics recycling and containers heading offshore. There’s no way around that. There’s no way around the difference in price, and no way around the difference in social and environmental impacts.

The Golden Rule of recycling never changes: Know Your Markets.

BU’s Brown Arena Basketball Floor Gets a New Life in Jamaica

January 2005 was a bleak month for Boston University’s Brown Arena basketball floor. After 30 years hosting men’s and women’s hoops, after feeling the step of coaches like BU’s own Rick Pitino, Mike Krzyzewski, and Jim Calhoun, after playing under Reggie Lewis, Christian Laettner, and Grant Hill, after underpinning a tennis court for Billie Jean King, Virginia Wade and Chris Evert – it was shoved into a warehouse, pushed aside by a new floor at the new Agganis Arena.

There it sat for almost five years. In the dark, lost, forgotten.

There it would probably have sat until doomsday, except that last year BU landed a role in a movie (WHAT movie remains confidential). Hollywood needed the warehouse, Hollywood got the warehouse, and the old Brown Arena floor got in the way.

A couple of years ago, that would have been the end of the story. Basketball floor in the way; basketball floor in the dumpster; goodbye. But since 2007 BU has had a different way to handle surplus property. BU has linked up with IRN, the Institution Recycling Network. IRN matches BU’s surplus with a network of charities in the U.S. and around the world, where BU’s excess stuff is used for disaster and poverty relief. In 2009 alone, more than 142 tons of BU surplus were sent for reuse through IRN.

So when the Brown floor got in the way, BU called IRN. IRN called a nonprofit partner, Food for the Poor, who put dibs on the floor in a heartbeat. The match was made to a rural school in southern Jamaica, where Food for the Poor has been active in poverty relief for many years.

So it was that in early October the Brown Arena floor got a new lease on life. A crew of IRN movers took the floor back out into the light of day. It was packed into two shipping containers, trucked to the port of Elizabeth, New Jersey, and loaded onto a ship for the week-long sea voyage to Jamaica. There in Kingston it was unloaded back onto wheels for the short trip to Food for the Poor’s local warehouse. It sat for just a few days before it was taken out again and installed in its permanent new home in Sandy Bay, about 40 miles from Kingston.

Where it will probably flourish for another 30 years, almost certainly under the feet of more than a few Jamaican kids who’ll end up in the NCAA, the Jamaican National Team, or the Olympics.Terrier and all. BU’s logo can carry the school name proud and high. One of the essential missions of higher education is to demonstrate the possibilities of human creativity and imagination. Repurposing the Brown Arena hoops floor to benefit generations of Jamaican children lives up to that goal.