Archive for July, 2011

Ghana wants to USE electronics, not take them apart

By Jamison Shabanowitz ’12, COS Summer Research Student


Last time I wrote in this space, I highlighted the growing problem of illegal e-waste dumping in the global South.  Places like Ghana are overwhelmed by old electronics from the global North.  From the looks of the videos embedded in my last entry, these materials are sought after in these poorer countries for their metal and plastic component parts rather than their primary use, even if they are still in working condition. 

Yet my friend Corbett Wicks ’12 tells of a different story.  Over the past year, she has spent time in Ghana and notes the high demand for electronics, especially cell phones and laptops, to use rather than to take apart.  Ghana ranks 49th in the world when it comes to the number of working cell phones in the country according to the CIA World Factbook with over 15 million devices, most of them purchased in open-air markets along the streets of urban areas for as little as $2.00.

Wicks in fact felt pressured by her friends at the University of Ghana in the West African country’s capital, Accra, to give her cell phone to one of them once they knew of her plans to head back to the States.  “The younger generations in Ghana, especially those who attend one of the Universities, own and use electronics.”

Older generations have not been as swept up in the movement to modernize as younger generations, sparking a debate as to what the country should look like in the years to come.  There are many Ghanans who prefer less Western influence in their day-to-day lives, particularly those in rural areas.  According to Wicks, outside of Accra, cell phones and other electronic devices are rarely found.

A real downside to modernizing is the environmental impact of this influx of new technology.  Even taking out the West’s exportation of trash, Wicks notes the hazardous waste problem within cities and towns in Ghana:  “Trash of all kinds lines the streets, and even if it is maintained, it is only taken down to an open-air dump where the poor scrounge for workable items.”

Ghana does not need more trash to sort through for precious metals; some of their population just wants to “westernize.”  Our duty here across the Atlantic is to make sure that our trash stays States-side and responsibly handled, while working materials are donated to those in need, whether here or in developing countries like Ghana.  People want to use cell phones; they do not want to rummage through cancer-causing material and turn in metal scraps from e-waste for meager profit.

July 20th, 2011

Sustainable transportation at W&M

The following is a post by Patrick Foley ’13, a COS Summer Research Student, who is working on transportation issues.


I am constantly impressed by the commitment William and Mary students have shown to making a difference on Campus. We are truly a campus dedicated to learning more about those issues we care about so deeply. I have always been interested in environmental affairs, and I have been so pleased to find a group of students and faculty who share such a genuine passion for the well-being of our natural surroundings. For that reason, I am incredibly excited about the research that I have been conducting with my Committee on Sustainability Summer Research Grant.

Let me begin by telling you a little bit about my personal background. I really became involved working with environmental issues as a Sharpe Community Scholar my freshman year. My service group volunteered between 5-10 hours each week in order to help construct a Green Roof on the William and Mary campus. We also met with local high school students to educate them about green technology. I loved my work with Professor Dennis Taylor, the other students in my group, and our community partners. I knew that I had to find a way to encourage sustainability when I went home for the summer. I built upon this experience by spending last summer at the Center for Health and the Global Environment as a Research Assistant for Dr. Paul R. Epstein, who was named a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I also gained public policy experience by working on issue analysis as an intern with Bill Keating’s Congressional Campaign.

Once I returned to school, I was eager to find a new way to combine my interest in community service and environmental research. This past spring I became an Eco-Ambassador for the College and began a wonderful research project with the support of both the Committee on Sustainability and Professor John McGlennon in the Department of Government. I have found this research project to be a great way to give back while  gaining research experience. The goal of my project was to examine and explore the current status of public transit usage at the College of William and Mary. During the spring, I created a survey to gauge how students felt about the efficacy and general utility of the public transit services offered by the Williamsburg Area Transportation Authority.

Since that time, I have had the privilege of continuing my research with Committee on Sustainability. Throughout the summer I have been reaching out to students and faculty alike to hear their suggestions and design a plan which will help improve the public transit system in Williamsburg. Furthermore, my research compares how those universities similar to William and Mary have gone about creating efficient and sustainable transportation programs. For that reason, I have been working with officials at a number of universities which include UVA, UNC-Chapel Hill, JMU, and Virginia Tech. Once I have completed my background research on the programs at these universities I can move forward with my final report which will attempt to synthesize the information and find a well-reasoned plan for William and Mary. Our school has a unique tradition and faces different circumstances than these institutions; but I am confident that my project will produce real results. I have so enjoyed my research project the past few months, and I am eager to continue with this project for the rest of the summer. I also hope to find new ways to promote Sustainability as a member of the Steering Committee for COS this upcoming fall. I truly appreciate that you took the time to read this whole article; I hope that I did not ramble too much. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my post!

July 15th, 2011

I vant to suck your….energy?

By Guest Blogger and COS Summer Research Student Julia Casciotti


It’s a cold, dark, and rainy night. You turn off the television and close your laptop to turn in and as you’re plugging in your cell phone to charge as you sleep, you feel an unexplainable eerie presence in your home. Perhaps a ghost? A phantom? You reassure yourself that the spook is only in your imagination…but it’s not. You have a vampire in your home.

A growing area of concern for environmentalists is a phenomenon known as “vampire energy loss” or “phantom energy.” Overlooking its strange name, this concept refers to the energy lost through appliances that are turned off or in standby mode. It was estimated that $10 billion was spent on this form of wasted electricity in the United States just last year.  As students, we’re virtually always plugged into some sort of electronic device, be it our laptops for twelve hours at a time in Swem or our iPhones which need constant charging to keep up with our 3G and texting addictions. On average, laptop computers in sleep mode are still consuming half as much energy as they do when they are in use.  Additionally, game consoles in “ready” mode consume only 5 watts less than those in active mode. Although cell phone chargers only use a small amount of energy to begin with, it costs nearly as much energy to leave your phone plugged in fully charged as it does when it is actually charging.*

There are several steps you can take to minimize this wasted energy.  For example, remember to unplug your electronics when they are not in use or after they finish charging.  Some devices, namely computers, have a “power save” mode intended to reduce the energy consumed when the device is not in use.  This is the most energy efficient setting and should be utilized when available.  When shopping for new appliances, look for the EnergyStar label, indicating that they meet energy efficiency guidelines set out by the EPA.  These electronics are automatically set to enter into sleep mode when not in use and consume much less energy than those which have to be switched manually.

In order for the College to better comply with these guidelines for energy efficiency, we are taking preliminary steps to replace old printers, copiers and computers on campus with newer more efficient models.  As part of a COS Summer research project regarding E-Recycling, my partner and I will be measuring energy uses of different machines on standby to see which campus clunkers are unnecessarily using up the most energy in hopes that these will be soon upgraded. If you’re curious about exactly how much phantom energy you’re using in your home or dorm room, you can even rent a watt reader from Swem to get an accurate reading of your consumption.

So, the next time you get a supernatural feeling in your home, it might be a vampire! Just take a deep breath, put away your garlic and wooden stakes, and start following these small tips to conserve energy and save money.  Dracula won’t stand a chance.

*Data from the Lawrence Berkeley National Library

July 14th, 2011

E-recycling: Keeping the College free from identity theft

By Guest Blogger and COS Summer Research Student Jamison Shabanowitz ’12


Here at the College, we are blessed to have such a great recycling program.  Slowly but surely we are finding ways to recycle more and more things, removing harmful materials from the waste stream and instead giving them to responsible vendors who properly dispose of materials.

Yet for items such as electronics, properly disposing materials does not just stop at the breakdown of plastics and metals.  In many cases, electronic items contain information about the former user and must be properly deleted from the item to avoid giving out private information from getting into the hands of criminals.  An example of how easily criminals can access personal data from used, improperly handled electronics can be seen here at the 5:00 mark of this video. 

This is one more reason why simply disposing e-waste can harm society.  In addition to the negative environmental impact, the possibility of identity theft is real.

Fortunately, for the College’s faculty and staff, this type of scare is not a serious threat.  The College’s Information Technology unit, which handles around 60% of the computers (all of these are Dell products) on the main campus, first ensures that all data is erased before sending the items back to Dell, who responsibly refurbishes them as part of the Reconnect Partnership with the Goodwill (For more info, click here).

The other 40% of main campus computers are managed by the Office of Procurement, which sends items to Computer Recycling of Virginia.  On their website, they have a pledge to their customers to protect from data theft so that if materials such as hard drives are reused, past users’ information do not go along with it.

What can students do?  Well, in addition to a major project we are currently working on this summer that puts more emphasis on reuse of electronics within the community (more on that soon), they can take their items to a few different places.  If you give your item to the Goodwill, they will put it in the same Reconnect Partnership program that IT uses for their Dell computers.  Additionally, Apple will take PC and Mac computers for free if you fill out this request form and allow a few days for the mail to drop off boxes for your items.  Many localities, including the College, have sponsored hazardous waste events where for one day a vendor collects however much e-waste people in the community have.

Bottom line, the smartest thing to do is to make sure your data is completely removed from all machines before donating them away, even if a vendor has a pledge on data security.  Notice that with the Reconnect Partnership, complete data security is not completely ensured, thus the reason for IT wiping hard drives before sending away items.  There is never any second-guessing to whether or not your data is kept out of the hands of criminals if you wipe your electronics before giving them away. 

Mac users looking to completely erase their data can use their system’s discs that came with the computer in order to erase the data.  Directions can be found here.  PC users should try and find a copy of KillDisk, which is software that “zeros” a hard drive to the standards of the US Department of Defense.  Finally, with any hard drive one could remove it from the computer and smash the actual disk with a hammer or some other tool (demonstrated here).  Of course, you could go the blender route, though that is not exactly advised.

When it comes to e-waste, the College is striving to make sure that true “waste management “ is the norm.

July 12th, 2011

Technology is not Trash at the College

What follows is a post by Julia Casciotti and Jamison Shabanowitz, two of COS’s Summer Research Students. Julia and Jamison are working on e-recycling issues and will be updating you with their progress throughout the summer. Enjoy!

Arguably the most common way I am reminded of my Senior academic status is when I notice just how many more people have laptops newer than my own. My black MacBook is now three years old, yet seems like it came out of 90’s compared to the sleek, aluminum-encased MacBook Pro on sale now. Julia’s 2008 Dell may look new, but it cannot go more than an hour without being plugged into a wall to recharge the battery.

Needless to say, we will both be looking for upgrades come time for graduation. Yet where do these oldies-but-goodies wind up when the last undergraduate paper has been conquered? Soon, the College hopes to have a solution.

Over the past 13 months, the Committee on Sustainability has been looking at ways to create a full-fledged, institutionalized e-recycling program that takes care of not only student electronics, but also those gadgets owned by faculty and staff.

The project has taken a two-pronged approach, addressing both “small” and “large” electronics typically used by the College community. For smaller items, Swem Library has been a key partner in helping with the success of this project. Students, faculty and staff can drop off ink cartridges, ink toner, and cell phones at the Circulation desk.

This program, free of cost, is more beneficial to the College when more people recycle, as more money is made from recycling certain items and is then sent back to the College’s Green Fee fund. The Green Fee fund helps supports additional projects (like this one) aimed to make our community more sustainable.

Swem also takes care of used battery recycling as well. For those not so inclined to walk to Swem, the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, located next to Hunt Hall behind the Campus Center, also takes batteries, along with light bulbs, too.

As for “large” electronics, we are working with the Student Assembly to create a “Tribe eBay” of sorts where students can sell their still-functioning laptops, printers, gaming system, etc. to others in the student community in need. We will probably blog on this idea more in-depth later.

This system will put students on par with faculty and staff, who have their “large” items already properly recycled. In the future, we hope to have more of the items that still are in working condition be resold or donated to the local community instead of being shipped back to a vendor.

There are a few more exciting developments, but I’ll save those for another time. Check back for updates as we begin the second year of the College’s e-recycling initiative. We’ll try and keep things fresh… even if our laptops suffer a premature death.

July 11th, 2011


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