Ole Miss ‘e-cyling’ gives technology a new life

Posted on Mar 9 2017 - 8:01am by Trenton Scaife

Like most colleges, the University of Mississippi goes through tons of technology, with year-to-year upgrades turning modern PCs into salvage. The electronic waste, known as e-waste, can’t sit in a storage closet forever, though. Instead, the university has them cleared away and sent to be reused or recycled.

This process starts with the Office of Procurement, where Patti Mooney determines the fate of the computers that come her way. Computers too old to serve one department lose their hard drives and get sent to a new home. Whether or not that new home is another place on campus depends on the need. As long as parts can be bought for them and there’s a motherboard to shove them into, old Ole Miss computers will eventually reside in another state-run department.

“Basically, someone would have to run over your laptop before we call it e-waste,” Mooney said.

Once a device is dead enough to be called e-waste, the state mandates it be sent to a recycling center. In Mississippi, thats Magnolia Data Solutions. Owned by Barrett White, MDS has been smashing electronics since 2012. Plastic circuit boards are melted down, metals are reclaimed and parts with a bit of life in them go back out to market.

Loose hard drives make their way to MDS, too, but not before the Office of Procurement destroys them a little bit itself. Hard drives hold onto their data so tightly that the only way to truly clear them is to destroy them, and this process starts with a magnetic pike.

“If it comes to us, it will not leave without a hole in it,” Mooney said.

The state requires the university to recycle what can’t be rehabilitated, but students’ e-waste is another matter. Laws don’t require them to properly dispose of their tech, and providing a way for 23,000 students to dump their devices properly presents its own challenges.

“It’s not manpower so much as having the responsibility dispersed among so many people,” Mooney said.

That’s where the Office of Sustainability comes in. Through the Green Initiative, under assistant director Anne McCauley, the Office of Sustainability works to reduce various streams of waste, from food and plastics to small electronics, from entering landfills.

Working with the non-profit recycling group Funding Factory, classes across campus were outfitted with e-waste recycling bins. The small slots won’t accommodate old tower PCs, but they do provide a spot to throw cell phones, ink cartridges and other small gadgets so they won’t end up in a landfill.

“Beyond that, we don’t really have anything,” McCauley said. “We’ve got so many devices now that we should really be offering students expanded opportunities to deal with them.”

Until those opportunities arise, McCauley and her staff use informational campaigns in the fall and spring.  Their most successful is the Green Grove Initiative, a small campaign run during football season handing out green recycling bags to tents in the Grove in hopes of encouraging  students and fans to recycle. The options for students to throw out their e-waste are limited as of right now, with the nearest MDS recycling center being three hours south of Oxford.

McCauley said she believes companies like MDS may see the economic opportunities to be had in harvesting resources from e-waste.

“We’re already starting to think about how we can do better, and as our options increase, we can engage in it in a deeper way.”

This article was submitted to The Daily Mississippian from an advanced reporting class.