YES! But How? :: Responsibly Dispose of Electronics

Troubled by the difficulties of a clean & green existence? Whipsawed by confusion because you want to live sustainably, but you just don't know how? Don't worry... Ask Doug & Annie!


Dear Annie & Doug,

How can one responsibly dispose of electronic equipment, such as computers or telephones? Is there any way it can be recycled? —Marilyn Lovell, Paw Paw, West Virginia

[Editors note: this topic was addressed again in issue 24]

Dear Marilyn:

Right now, reuse is the key word. David Isaacs, Director of Environmental Affairs for the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) says there's some movement toward recycling at the business level but almost nothing available for individuals. The EIA Web site ( has links to what's around, including organizations that connect used equipment (mostly computers) with folks who can use it some more.

One interesting recycling project that I turned up comes out of Boston, Massachusetts. Conigliaro Industries is marketing a pothole filler made from ground-up computer and television plastic housings and liquid asphalt. The product, called "Boston Best Patch," is being sold in 3 1/2 gallon buckets for $8 each through Boston-area hardware stores. Unfortunately, forward-thinking innovations like Boston Best Patch have been few and far between.

There have been some pilot projects exploring recycling across the US, but the false bottom line rules so far. San Jose, California, for instance, found that collecting and recycling used computers and monitors cost $142-$584 per ton - an obvious money-loser. But the projected cost of properly disposing of the same monitors as hazardous waste was twice the high end of recycling. The awful reality is: Consumers can put their monitors in the trash one at a time and "nobody pays" the hazardous waste fees (other than who or what reaps the consequences of those bits of lead leaching into the soil). Until people start insisting on true cost analysis, it's going to be hard to start recycling programs for electronic equipment.

If you've got obsolete equipment, check with local thrift stores, most of whom will accept working equipment for resale. Be creative - a kindergarten teacher tells me that old phones are one of her students' favorite playthings.

If you've got any spare storage space at all, use it at least for any old cathode ray tubes (they all contain lead). As usual, industry is well behind the curve on this one; in a few years, they may be caught up enough so you can recycle with little fuss.


Dear Annie & Doug,

Is there a safe and effective way to eliminate termites from a home or garage without having to tent? I understand there are different types of termites. Would the treatment be the same for all types? —Dianne C.. via e-mail

Dear Dianne:

Yours is a really good question given the seriousness of the damage termites can cause and the danger of some of the pesticides used to control them. Many people poison their houses, feeling they are between a rock and a hard place and without safe options.

It is important to identify what species of termite you have. One excellent resource to help you do this is the book Common-Sense Pest Control: Least-toxic Solutions for Your Home, Garden, Pets and Community (Taunton Press, 3991). If you have drywood termites, search out a local exterminator that uses an Electro-Gun. They can lease this equipment, if they don't already own it, by contacting ETEX, Ltd. (800/543-8894;Web: Studies have shown that exterminators have fewer call-backs using the Electro-Gun than with conventional pesticides.

Another product to investigate is Tim-Bor. It is a boric acid compound that provides permanent termite control. Tim-Bor is available from US Borax and Chemical Group (800/989-6267).

One hands-on, do-it-yourself tip is to remove all damp wood and moisture by using diatomaceous earth (made from the skeletons of prehistoric algae). Make sure to use natural diatomaceous earth available in garden supply centers and natural pet catalogs - not the type sold for swimming pools. Sprinkle it around problem areas and construct a barrier of eight to ten-mesh sand at least five inches deep and one foot wide all around the house to keep the termites from tunneling.

Another option is to use nematodes, as they eat termites. Place them in the dirt surrounding the foundation. One source of nematodes is N-Viro Products, Ltd. (516/567-2628).


Dear Annie & Doug,

I'm looking for a non-toxic oil finish for wood toys. I have done some experiments with raw linseed oil and tung oil. What do you suggest? I want something that is really safe for small children. —Steve Henry, via e-mail

Dear Steve:

After some thought about this, I'd suggest using jojoba liquid wax, found in health food stores. The reason I suggest this over oils is that jojoba never goes rancid. Pure, raw linseed oil found in health food stores (linseed oil found in hardware stores contains drying chemicals, and should be avoided) will turn rancid before it dries out. Tung oil can be a sensitizer, meaning that it can cause people to develop sensitivities to other materials.

If you choose to use an oil found in your kitchen cupboard, I'd choose olive oil, as it has a very long shelf life.


Dear Annie & Doug,

In YES! #10, you recommend the use of citrus peel extract to get rid of fleas. I know many "green" folks are choosing to use all kinds of things made from citrus peel without really educating themselves.

I recently found out that products made with citrus peel can be dangerous, because if they don't come from organic sources, they are loaded with pesticides! —Anonymous, via e-mail

Dear Anonymous:

Sometimes, in trying to make the environmentally preferable choice, one makes some compromises, and this is one of those instances. I still believe that using some citrus solvent - even non-organic - inside the home is safer for health and the environment than using a commercial pesticide. It would be unlikely that the pesticide residue on the orange peel would be anywhere nearly as high as that which would be found in, say, a flea bomb. You also skip the often toxic inert ingredients found in commercial pesticides.

Dear Annie & Doug,

I am looking for a recipe for an organic oven cleaner. Can you assist? —Scrubbing Away in California

Dear Scrubbing:

The answer is as simple as baking soda - you won't believe how well it works against even horrible grime until you try it. The key is using enough baking soda, and keeping it moist.

Baking Soda Oven Cleaner:

  • Use a small to medium-sized box of baking soda.

  • Sprinkle the bottom of the oven with baking soda to cover.
  • Spray with water until very damp, and keep moist by spraying every few hours. Let set overnight.
  • In the morning, simply scoop out the baking soda—all the grime will be loosened—and rinse the oven well. Baking soda needs a lot of rinsing, but it is well worth the effort because of the elimination of toxic fumes from commercial cleaners.

Washing Soda for Tough Jobs

Washing soda is a little more heavy-duty than baking soda, but it needs more rinsing, so just bring it out for really tough jobs. Substitute half washing soda for half of the baking soda. Follow directions above.

Do you have a question for Doug & Annie? Send it to:

Doug & Annie
PO Box 10818
Bainbridge Island, WA 98110

Doug Pibel is a freelance writer living the simple life in Snohomish, WA.

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