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Gainesville students make tree to recycle electronics
Container will help keep chemicals in phones from fouling environment
Two Gainesville High students from the Family Career and Community Leaders of America are competing in the STAR “environmental ambassador” event. The two juniors built a cardboard tree complete with a phone collection box in the trunk in order to raise awareness about E-waste. They’re collecting old, broken or out-of-date electronics and providing informational seminars to homeroom classes.

While it might seem a broken electronic device has nowhere to go but the trash, two local high school students have an environmentally friendly way to dispose of “E-waste.”

Now they want the community to use it.

Sara Brown and Iridian Pacheco, both juniors at Gainesville High School, have built an E-waste recycling container at the school.

The girls realized the impact electronic trash can have on the environment while conducting research for an upcoming regional Family Career and Community Leaders of America Students Taking Action with Recognition competition.

Any electronic item can become E-waste.

Frequently tossed items include MP3 players, cellphones, remote controls or keyboards.

The girls didn’t want to cause another environmental problem while trying to find a solution to recycling E-waste so they created a tree-shaped container out of recycled cardboard. They found the cardboard behind the school’s cafeteria.

Brown said it was interesting to learn how litter and E-waste can impact the environment.

“When people don’t recycle cellphones, either they throw them away or lose them, they break apart and chemicals from the phone get into the soil and affect the environment,” Brown said.

She said some of the hazardous chemicals, such as lithium and arsenic, could cause health problems.

Pacheco said she had no idea that cellphones are made with toxic chemicals.

Before working on the project, she didn’t think twice about throwing broken electronics in the garbage.

To see how many students were also in the dark, the girls organized a survey. They weren’t exactly surprised with the results.

Whittney McPherson, FCCLA adviser at Gainesville High School, said the idea that cellphones could be damaging to the environment was “kind of outside the realm” of some students.

“They’re so technological, they didn’t even realize.” McPherson said. “Most of them change phones every year.

Most students said if they broke a phone they just take the SIM card out and throw it away.”

Knowing that most of their classmates were unaware of the issue, the girls visited homeroom classes to talk with other students about E-waste.

“We made a PowerPoint (presentation) that explains statistics and all the effects (chemicals) have on the human body,” Pacheco said. “We just tell them to recycle their phones. It’s better for the environment and everyone else.”

So far, about 15 cellphones have been recycled through their efforts. They hope to have at least 100 items recycled in the next week.

The girls will also visit local businesses and encourage the community to dispose of E-waste properly.

“People from the community can bring in old computers; it doesn’t matter if they’re broken or smashed,” McPherson said. “We just want to make sure the insides of the phones don’t get into the environment.”

McPherson said the students are still debating what to do with recycled phones.

The girls have considered donating those that are still functional to a domestic violence center so women can call 911 in an emergency.

The other items may be recycled through Georgia Power’s electronic recycling program.

E-waste can be dropped off in the Gainesville High School Vocational Office or the main office.