The members of Unitarian Church of Hinsdale understand that environmental justice and environmental actions are directly related not only to the Seventh Principle – the respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part – but also to the First Principle – the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Recently, Unitarian Church of Hinsdale has begun working on electronic waste (e-waste) issues. E-waste that is not disposed of in local landfills but collected in “recycling” efforts is transported to China or developing nations in Asia or Africa. This e-waste is then processed in primitive conditions, with plastic insulation burned to get at copper wiring, lead-based solder melted over hot plates, and poisonous residue washed into drinking water. Congregants at the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale felt that they needed to help break this cycle to help heal these environmental injustices.
After hosting the films The Digital Dump and Exporting Harm to educate the congregation and community about e-waste by, members of UCH found a local responsible electronics recycler through the Basel Action Network (BAN). The company accepts electronics of all kinds and removes the most valuable copper wiring, pulverizes lead-containing monitor glass for transport to a smelter in Canada, and crushes and sorts the remaining plastic, ferrous, and non-ferrous metal parts. None of the material is sent overseas and all waste is disposed of in accordance with the BAN recycler’s pledge. Recently, thirty members of the congregation toured their responsible electronics recycler, Sims Recycling, to see how the electronic devices are dismantled, shredded, and the pieces are separated for recycling. After this, the UCH Green Sanctuary committee scheduled two electronic recycling events at the church: one in the fall of 2007 and one in the spring of 2009. The first event brought in 1,800 pounds of electronic devices. The second event, after being publicized to the wider community, led to the collection of over one ton of material. Each person dropping off an electronic item paid a fee (as much as $10), to promote the idea that responsible recycling is not free, and received printed materials about the need to recycle e-waste locally and responsibly.
In the last year, the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale educated the their congregation as well as the larger community about the need to avoid sending e-waste overseas and diverted over two tons of e-waste from less-prosperous countries. By doing this, the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale demonstrated that our actions (or inactions) have direct and present effects on the conditions in which other people live. Their efforts help to ensure that the e-waste is recycled and disposed of in responsible and safe ways; this affirms the inherent worth and dignity of those people who could have been affected by irresponsible “recycling.”
e-Stewards (Sims Recycling is one) are North America’s most responsible recyclers, who uphold the Electronics Recycler’s Pledge of True Stewardship – the most rigorous criteria for environmentally and socially responsible electronics recycling based on the existing international laws and the principle of global environmental justice. E-Stewards recyclers have pledged not to send hazardous e-waste to developing countries, landfills, incinerators, or prison recycling operations, among other things.