Campus computing comes up green

By By Arthur Raymond and By Arthur Raymond

By Arthur Raymond

Although students enjoy the stylish new Macs and PCs in computing labs across campus, some might stop to ponder the fate of that dusty, old machine with the sticky keys they loved to hate in last year’s class.

The U’s Green Computing Resource Center helps ensure that electronic dinosaurs, now known as e-waste, stay out of the landfill, and is addressing a host of other environmental issues created by the vast array of technological hardware and processes at the U.

Andrew Reich, an IT architect at the U, explained that the center is addressing issues “across a broad spectrum of environmental concerns.”

Some solutions are simple and can be addressed immediately by anyone who uses a computer on campus, Reich said. Using a thumb-drive in place of burning a CD, utilizing network connections for data transfer instead of other media and simply turning off a machine or monitor when you’re done with it are all steps that save energy and resources.

In the bigger view, Reich and others involved with the group are looking at where equipment comes from. A new way of evaluating sustainability in products is the so-called “cradle-to-cradle” design scheme, which determines how easily and efficiently a product can be re-utilized and/or recycled before it’s made. These design considerations optimize the ability to deal with the product responsibly when its “useful” life is over.

Currently, e-waste generated at the U is processed via the university surplus and salvage department. This department separates anything that still has “utility” from true waste. Usable items are resold, while waste is handled by Guaranteed Recycling Xperts, a company that contracts with the state and local schools to process this e-waste in an environmentally responsible manner.

The Recycling Coalition of Utah, a non-profit group that advocates and provides information on recycling issues, notes the toxicity of components in used equipment. These components include lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium and brominated flame retardants. All are hazardous and can create long-term issues if not handled properly. GRX deconstructs the outdated machinery at their processing facility in Clearfield and isolates anything containing hazardous materials. Some components are re-utilized and some are recycled. Their stated goal is to return 100 percent of the material to the manufacturing process.

Eric Anderson, a GRX regional manager, said their Clearfield facility is processing about 200,000 lbs. of e-waste every month. This includes what he estimated to be seven to eight pallets of material from the U, collected every three weeks.

In addition to tracking the responsible handling of e-waste, the resource center is looking for ways to reduce systems power consumption, efficiently cool the heat generated by equipment like server-centers and centralizing data operations, with a possible campus data center on the horizon.

Reich hopes the center, which he described as “still in its infancy,” can develop into a dynamic resource for evaluating and addressing information technology “green” issues campus-wide. Plans are in the works for coordination with the U’s Office of Sustainability.

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Jarad Reddekopp

Local freelance artist Bruce English searches for a new computer monitor for his work. Used electronics are recycled and resold on campus at the Surplus and Salvage BuildingLocal freelance artist Bruce English searches for a new computer monitor for his work. Used electronics are recycled and resold on campus at the Surplus and Salvage Building near the Residence Halls.