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Making Scrap Pay



Making Scrap Pay

By Eric Sauter

Have you ever wondered what it costs to get rid of 500 pounds of scrap electronics (surge protectors, phones, cables, computers, etc.), plus 60 pounds of batteries and a gaggle of lamps?

$327.60. Add four refrigerators and the price jumps to more than $700.

Getting rid of what’s known in industry parlance as e-waste (electronic waste) isn’t cheap. So last year, Peter Norris, director of Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) at the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), and Carol Swete, safety coordinator in the department, had the idea of turning the equation around and selling all that worn out plastic and metal directly, rather than going through a recycling company.

“We want to avoid landfills,” Norris said, “so we go to companies that will reclaim the plastics, electronics and metals.”

“We’re turning a waste into a commodity,” Swete said.

There was always recycling on the campus, but this was the first time it paid dividends.

Norris and Swete found they could do even better with equipment such as, say, a broken spectrophotometer that somebody might want to buy and fix or use for parts. Since then, other potentially saleable pieces of used equipment have included protein analyzers, high-performance liquid chromatography equipment and, of course, the seemingly never-ending stream of computer equipment. (Security note: the hard drives are always removed from computers before they are recycled; they are, as they say in the business, “de-commissioned”.)

Since their first sale in the summer of 2014, several more checks have come in—which have all been put back into supporting the campus and its research.

On the institute’s La Jolla, California campus, the recycling program is similar to Jupiter’s, also run by EH&S (the consumer recycling program is run separately through Environmental Services). For items such as refrigerators, technicians evacuate and recycle the freon, then tear the units apart onsite and sell the remains as scrap metal.

While there tends to be less of a market for the lab equipment used at Scripps California than at Scripps Florida, the California campus can take advantage of the fact that the State of California actually buys recycled computer monitors, paying for the scrap innards.

Jim Gohres, director of EH&S at Scripps California, said, “The bottom line is we’re all trying to pitch in to get the most from what we have, for the benefit of science and the institute.”

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“We’re turning a waste into a commodity,” says Carol Swete of Scripps Florida EH&S, who spearheaded the new program with EH&S Director Peter Norris.