Collecting Electronic Waste


While studying the Law of Conservation of Matter and Energy, eighth-grade students in Portland, Maine watched several Internet videos and images of electronic waste (e-waste) pollution in China, India, and several African countries. A guest speaker from a regional nonprofit waste management firm told students about the problems associated with e-waste and why this form of waste generally can’t be disposed of in traditional facilities.

To gain a better understanding of how significant the e-waste problem was locally, students completed an online survey about the amounts and types of e-waste in their own homes. In math class, students analyzed the data. A group of students looked up the number of households in Portland so they could estimate how much e-waste might be in households citywide.


All 65 eighth-graders then gathered to discuss what could be done. They identified two needs to address: informing local residents about the hazards of e-waste and need for proper disposal; and helping get the e-waste out of their homes. Students then worked in small groups to generate possible solutions, selecting three: 1) hosting an e-waste collection booth at the school’s spring carnival; 2) doing a neighborhood e-waste pickup drive; and 3) developing public service announcements and fliers to inform the community about proper e-waste disposal.

Students shared news of their project with the school through daily announcements and on the school’s website. They did a community “walkabout” to inform neighbors of the collection dates. Students also generated media coverage, including a live radio interview, a brief television story, and a letter to the editor.

At the two collection events (held in cooperation with Portland Public Services), community residents brought enough e-waste (2,627 electronic items) to fill a 26-foot box truck. Students tracked the types of e-waste collected, and completed a follow-up online survey of their households, which indicated that people would handle their future disposal of e-waste far more responsibly than in the past.