New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

Habitat Magazine Business of Management 2021

HABITAT

ARCHIVE ARTICLE

Technotrash No More

Peter Wiener, board president of a 127-unit co-op in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, hates waste. And he hated the fact that his building’s “technotrash” – used printer cartridges, diskettes, rechargeable batteries – were just being dumped, willy nilly, in the building’s garbage cans. For a fellow who had studied to be an environmentalist in college, it was tantamount to heresy. Couldn’t these things be re-used in some way?

It was a no-brainer, then, when he heard about GreenDisk, a Seattle-based organization that recycles a broad range of electronic waste. “I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about them and called them up and said, ‘Do you guys do anything in New York City?’ And they said, ‘We’ve gotten some inquiry, but not a lot of inquiry.’”

The organization was founded on April 22, 1993 (Earth Day) by high-tech industry veterans with the aim of recycling old electronic equipment and using it to manufacture the GreenDisk branded line of office supplies. According to David Beschen, the primary owner of the company, “We started as a service to the software industry and basically have migrated to include other intellectual property, such as music and movies that also distribute on electronic media.”
GreenDisk provides secured, audited disposal of material stored on electronic media and other technotrash. Technotrash is a term for obsolete or discarded electronic devices and materials such as cell phones, computers televisions, printers, inkjet and toner cartridges, and rechargeable batteries. Technotrash usually has little or no remaining value unless it can be collected into large batches for recycling.

Initially, the company focused on the need by software publishers for a secure system of disposal of their obsolete software. Their primary concern was for the destruction of any intellectual property. GreenDisk’s concern was to accomplish this important task in an environmentally responsible fashion. “Along the way,” Beschen notes, “businesses and individuals started asking us if we could do their stuff, and so we started to develop a program to recycle.” In response to this demand, GreenDisk offered its services to a wider range of clients.

Through a set of strategic alliances, GreenDisk began, says Beschen, “outsourcing” the recycling work to organizations that employed the handicapped. This created jobs for workers with disabilities while creating recycling services along with a new line of recycled products. “These workers provide the labor, using our audit procedures, for receiving, sorting, and consolidating the materials that we process,” explains Beschen.

The company now serves publishers, businesses, government agencies, and individuals who have similar concerns about their data and the environment. The spectrum of materials recycled has also grown to include everything from a diskette to the whole PC. GreenDisk can provide full recycling accountability for the entire range of technotrash.

But how does the technotrash get from New York to Seattle? Simple. For $29.95, you can get a technotrash can – a collection box with a slot on top for CDs, diskettes, DVDs, ink cartridges, cell phones, videotapes, pagers, PDAs, and all of the “byte-sized” technotrash. The collection box, postage, processing, and audit report with the “Certificate of Destruction” are all included. You can send the technotrash by the U.S. Postal Service, which offers a free pickup of boxes packed for mailing if you call the day before (for more information on this service, visit www.usps.com).

“You are given a shipping token number that allows you to download the prepaid mailing label,” explains the company’s web site (www.greendisk.com). “The token is a coded number assigned to your technotrash can that is used to track shipping and disposal status. This number will be on all communications regarding your order/shipment including your Certificate of Compliance that lets you know that the intellectual property on your technotrash (i.e., CDs, hard drives) has been securely destroyed. The token number is on the receipt of your order (which you should keep a copy of), [and] is included in the e-mail sent to you confirming your order, and is attached to the inside of the technotrash can as well.”

So far, GreenDisk, with over 2,500 customers nationwide, has not focused on the co-op and condo market, but that will soon change. With two cooperatives on board, Beschen sees great potential in the Big Apple.

“We haven’t marketed to co-ops yet. In fact, we’re going to deliver a different product to the home market than we’re presently delivering – a smaller [trash] box so that the turnaround time is shorter. Peter [Weiner’s response] makes us think [that New York is] a particularly good area. It’s pretty common across the country that the higher the education level and the higher the income level, the more likely people are to recycle. In fact, the research shows that most people, given the option, will choose to recycle.”

Wiener, for one, is keen to get his technotrash out west. He has just installed the technotrash can by the mailroom – where the ever-vigilant board has also installed a public paper-shredder – and has loaded it up with his recyclables. “I’d like to get behind this thing in a big way because it’s evident to me that there’s a lot of junk that’s not being recycled,” he says. “It takes a commitment, and we’re willing to commit.”

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