Trash Into Treasure: New Advances in Upcycling Electronic Waste

Innovative companies are adding upcycling to their repertoire of materials reuse for electronic waste. Upcycling brings added quality or environmental value to things we throw away. ERS International develops and utilizes new technologies which allow them to obtain maximum recovery value of electronics via electrostatic separation & particle classification. But ERS has also made significant headway in this untapped field of upcycling.  They have discovered how to conjunctionally reuse waste materials from other industries as well – such as natural stone waste.


At noon Thursday, Sept. 26, Jeff Mendez, Global Communications Director of ERS International will present “Recycling and Upcycling of Electronic Waste,” in the ISTC’s next “Sustainability in Action” seminar/webinar.  The presentation will be broadcast live from Toronto, Canada and can be viewed at the Stephen J. Warner Conference Room at ISTC (One Hazelwood Dr., Champaign), or at Room  218 Mechanical Engineering Building at U of I (1206 W Green St. in Urbana).


The webinar will also be simulcast live by registering at  The presentation will also be archived on the ISTC website for later viewing.


Engineer to Share Latest Research for Recycling LCD Screens

Old TVs and monitors are becoming old TVs and monitors at record rates as screen size and new capabilities grow and prices shrink. Most of their toxins build up in landfills where they can leach into the environment. If it works sell it or donate it. If it doesn’t,  check with a local repair shop to see if they will refurbish it. See if you can return it to the store where you purchased it, or watch for a recycling day from your local waste management service. Commercial electronics recyclers may charge you to drop off your old TV.


As researchers are constantly improving television technology they are also advancing technology for recycling their complex remains at the end of their lives. At noon this Thursday, Sept. 5, Dr. Fu Zhao, Associate Professor, School of Mechanical Engineering, Purdue University-West Lafayette will present “Recycling of Liquid Crystal Displays for Maximum Resource Recovery” as part of the ISTC’s Sustainable Technology Seminar Series “Sustainability in Action.”


Dr. Zhao will be speaking at ISTC with a live webinar of the presentation broadcast in Room 218 MEB).  You can also register at: to watch the broadcast live.


Here is Dr. Zhao’s abstract: “Hundreds of millions of liquid crystal displays (LCDs) will reach their end of life in the next few years, and most of them have cold cathode fluorescent lamps as the backlights. These mercury containing backlights bring challenges to the end of life treatment of LCDs. Communications with electronic waste recyclers indicate that recycling LCDs using available equipment and tools is not profitable in U.S. due to high equipment/labor cost. With the support of an EPA P3 Phase I grant, our team at Purdue University developed a four-step procedure for LCD disassembling. Appropriate tools for these steps have been designed and fabricated and the team was able to limit the total disassembling time to less than five minutes, the breakeven time suggested by e-waste recyclers. All the tools can be readily built using low-cost tools available on the market. The disassembling time can be shortened further after optimization. Toward the end of the talk, lessons learned from the project and challenges associated with developing sustainable electronic products will be discussed.”

ISTC Co-Sponsors C-U Area Medicine Take-back Program

The C-U Area Medicine Take-back Program will give area residents the opportunity to safely dispose of unwanted or expired medications 24 hrs. a day, 7 days a week, via locked collection boxes in the lobbies of the Champaign, Urbana, and University of Illinois Police Departments. The program is a partnership between the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, Champaign Police Department, Urbana Police Department, University of Illinois Police Department, Champaign County sheriff’s office, the National Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal Program, the cities of Champaign and Urbana, Illinois American Water, the University of Illinois Student Sustainability Committee, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, Champaign County Regional Planning Commission, Champaign-Urbana Public Health Department, WCIA and the Prairie Rivers Network.


This is the first pharmaceutical take-back program in Champaign County to be able to collect controlled substances. Both prescription and over-the-counter medicines, as well as veterinary pharmaceuticals will be accepted. The goals of the program are to reduce accidental poisonings of children and pets, prevent drug diversion and abuse, and limit environmental impacts from storage or improper disposal of unwanted or expired medicines.


ISTC’s Elizabeth Luber will be on hand at the Champaign Police Department on May 24th from 4-6 p.m. for the kick off of the new collection program.


See the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant news release on the program, as well as the News-Gazette article, for more information.

Landfill Harmonic: An Inspirational Story

In Cateura, Paraguay (South America) there is extreme poverty.  The people make most of their living from collecting sellable items from the huge landfill near their town, and drug addictions and gang violence are common among the youth.  One day two orchestra directors, Luis Szarán (Sonidos de la Tierra) and Favio Hernán Chávez Morán (Recycled Orchestra), got a “hair-brained” idea to give free music lessons to the poor children in Paraguay.


“Music is the smile of the soul” said Director Szarán.


The directors wanted to give purpose to Paraguay’s children to help prevent some of the social issues associated with extreme poverty. They teamed up with Creative Visions and started in Cateura with five violins.  Fifty children showed up for lessons.


How did the directors get instruments to all the students?  Continue reading “Landfill Harmonic: An Inspirational Story”

Webinar: Electronics Recycling in Will County 2012

Join us for a webinar on Wednesday, November 28, 2012, 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM CDT. This seminar will be hosted at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) in Champaign, IL, and simultaneously broadcast online. The presentation will be archived on the ISTC web site (see for more information and additional webinar archives).


Marta Keane, Recycling Program Specialist & Green Business Relations Coordinator for the Will County (IL) Land Use Department Resource Recovery & Energy Division, will present “Electronics Recycling in Will County 2012.” Register online for this webinar at


Abstract: Effective January 1, 2012, Illinois banned disposal of electronics in landfills. This presentation will describe Will County’s collection efforts before the mandatory ban, the county’s Front Door Electronic Service Program (a 3-year pilot program started April 2011), and steps taken to prepare for the ban. Results of these efforts thus far will be discussed as well as some remaining issues yet to be resolved. Examples of additional sustainability programs being conducted by Will County will also be described, including: efforts that resulted in receiving the Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Award in 2012; household hazardous waste service; tire collection events; book reuse & recycling events; shoe collection/textile collection; medication collection; green building improvements; and the Landfill Gas-to-Energy project.


SEI, the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR), and ISTC are hosting a series of seminars this fall focused on sustainable electronics research and issues. Watch the SEI calendar for upcoming seminar dates. You may contact Nancy Holm, SEI Research Coordinator, to be added to the mailing list to receive email notifications of upcoming seminars.

November 15 is America Recycles Day

Happy America Recycles Day! Celebrated annually on November 15 since 1997, America Recycles Day is a program of Keep America Beautiful, Inc. and is about educating the public about how and what to recycle, while encouraging people to do so as part of their daily routine. Those of us who were alive in the 1970s will remember Keep America Beautiful, or KAB, as the folks who brought us the public service campaign involving a Native American man weeping while bearing witness to thoughtless pollution. (You can watch a clip of that famous public service announcement featuring Iron Eyes Cody, and read more about KAB’s history on the organization’s web site.) As a child in the 70s, I suppose those PSAs, along with learning from Woodsy Owl to “Give a Hoot” and not pollute, marked the beginning of my personal journey to working on environmental protection and promoting pollution prevention and sustainability to businesses and citizens in Illinois and beyond.


ISTC provides a lot of information relevant to America Recycles Day through its various projects and web sites. On the Sustainable Electronics Initiative web site, you’ll find a fact sheet on Electronics Take-Back and Donation Programs that will help you learn about recycling options, or if you’re interested in selling devices for some extra cash or donating your electronics for a good cause. SEI also provides an extensive Summary of U.S. State Laws on Electronic Waste and Disposal Bans so you can learn what laws, if any, apply in your area. The Law & Policy section of the SEI web site will also help you learn about regulations on the local, federal and international levels, as well as providing more information on voluntary initiatives. The SEI Resources section also provides links on various aspects of electronics recycling. Read about the existing Certification programs on the SEI site to learn about what is involved in the responsible recycling of electronic devices. SEI also provides a RefWorks Database of journal articles on sustainable electronics and e-waste, which includes downloadable citations. And SEI’s International E-Waste Design Competition provides inspiration for the recycling and reuse of electronics scrap, as well as greener electronic product design, through a contest open to current university students and recent graduates from around the globe.


On the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR) web site, the extensive Sector Resources section provides information on Recycling & Waste Exchange, Product Stewardship, Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (if you’re interested in products with recycled content among other considerations), Electronic Waste, and Sustainable Product Design (again, relevant to items incorporating recycled materials or those that were designed with recycling in mind). Construction & Demolition provides information on recycling wastes associated with those activities. In the Topic Hubs section of the site, you’ll find a resource on Industrial Composting developed by the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx). The GLRPPR Funding Opportunities page provides information on grants to support sustainability activities including recycling. For example, the IL DCEO’s Recycling Grants Program provides technical assistance and grants for capital equipment to governmental entities, private businesses, and not-for-profit organizations for projects involving paper, plastic, metal and glass; the deadline for that program is November 19.


ISTC’s Librarian and GLRPPR Executive Director, Laura Barnes, has developed several subject guides for the collection of such guides on the Prairie Research Institute Library web site. The guides on Battery Recycling and  Lamp Recycling and Disposal are excellent resources to consult on America Recycles Day as you learn more about what you can do to recycle more items in your day to day life.


So even though recycling may seem like a simple concept that you’ve heard lots about, take some time today to consider all the ways you can incorporate recycling into your work and personal life. Odds are, there’s room for improvement, and every little bit helps!

2012 Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Awards

A pair of environmental recognition programs have joined together to honor Illinois organizations that have accomplished significant achievements in protecting the environment and helping to sustain the future. Winners of the Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Awards and the Illinois Campus Sustainability Compact Awards Program were presented during a luncheon in Oak Brook, IL.  Continue reading “2012 Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Awards”

Orange and Blue Go Green

Sustainability Week 2012

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) participated in several events during the 2012 UI Sustainability Week, October 22-26, 2012. The center was one of the stops on the Sustainability Scavenger Hunt. ISTC gave out biodegradable plastic sports bottles at its location in the hunt and has also donated reusable tote bags made from recycled plastic as part of the grand prize for the winners of the hunt.


ISTC also was at the Orange & Blue Go Green Sustainability Expo on Thursday, October 25 from 11:00am-2:00pm. The Sustainability Expo was located in the Lobby of the Student Dining & Residential Programs Building (SDRP), 301 E. Gregory Drive, Champaign. ISTC had a table with information on our Center and ways to be more sustainable as well as a few sustainable giveaways.


ISTC hosted the award winning documentary Bag it: Is your life too plastic? from 7:00pm-9:00pm on Thursday, October 25. Dr. BK Sharma, Senior Chemist at ISTC gave a 15 minute presentation before the film on how he converts plastic bags, non-recyclable, and not easily recyclable plastic into oil to potentially be used as fuel or lubricants.


Award-winning documentary “Bag It” comes to the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, is hosting a screening of the  award-winning environmental documentary Bag It at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center located at One E. Hazelwood Dr., Champaign, IL 61820 on October 25, 2012 from 7:00 to 9:00 P.M. Click here for a map and directions.


Bag It follows “everyman” Jeb Berrier as he tries to make sense of our dependence on plastic bags. Although his quest starts out small, Jeb soon learns that the problem extends past landfills to oceans, rivers and ultimately human health.


The average American uses about 500 plastic bags each year, for about twelve minutes each. This single-use mentality has led to the formation of a floating island of plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean more than twice the size of Texas.


The film explores these issues and identifies how our daily reliance on plastic threatens not only waterways and marine life, but human health, too. Two of the most common plastic additives are endocrine disruptors, which have been shown to link to cancer, diabetes, autism, attention deficit disorder, obesity and infertility.


The screening will also include a short talk about ISTC’s research project “Plastics to Oil” in which Dr. B.K. Sharma will discuss how he uses pyrolysis to convert plastic bags into oil. One potential use for the oil is as a substitute for food oils in biolubricants.


ISTC recognizes the importance of reducing single-use plastic use for the safety of its community and the environment. Its mission is to be at the forefront of environmental and energy research and innovative technological advances that protect natural resources and reduce wastes.  ISTC imparts this knowledge to the general public, businesses, state agencies, and the scientific community to improve the environment and economic viability of Illinois, the nation, and the world.


Screening Date: October 25, 2012

Screening Time: 7:00 to 9:00 P.M.

Screening Location: Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, One E. Hazelwood Dr., Champaign, IL 61820

Admission:  Free

This event is open to the public.

Champaign County Residential Electronics Collection, Saturday, October 13

Champaign County (IL)  will offer a residential electronics collection event from 8 a.m to noon on Saturday, October 13, 2012. The drop off location is the News-Gazette Distribution Center at 3202 Apollo Drive in Champaign, IL. Click here to view a map of the location, a list of acceptable electronic items being collected, and information on what becomes of the devices that you bring in for recycling (Note: disregard the date on the PDF; the pertinent information is the same for the October 13 event.)


Champaign County hosts approximately four of these events a year. If you are unable to go to the event this Saturday, other collection events will be held next year.  Stay tuned for more information.


Between collection events, check ISTC’s Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) fact sheet on take back and donation programs for a variety of options on what to do with your unwanted gadgets. You can also always check to find recycling locations near you for a wide variety of items by entering your Zip code.


Students: If you are interested in volunteering to assist Champaign County with administering a survey to collection event participants, please contact Courtney Rushforth, 217-384-2302,  for more information. Volunteers would need to arrive at the event site by 7 AM.  This is a great way to get some real world experience with social science research methods, as well as participating in a community outreach activity focused on sustainability and the responsible management of end-of-life electronics. It’s a learning experience and something interesting to list on your resume.


If you have any questions regarding the county collection events, call 217-328-3313.