Schools and communities are working together to collect recyclable printer cartridges, which can be exchanged for top-quality computer equipment and printers. A new program, ETCEP, makes this possible -- and easy to administer.
"As we all focus our attention on improving the technology in our public education system, this program provides an excellent way to upgrade the school's computers and teach the students the value of recycling at the same time. This program is an example of a private/public partnership that benefits both parties."
--- Beverly A. Hollingsworth, New Hampshire State Senator
Today, school systems across the U.S. are looking for innovative ways to finance computer technology in the classrooms. A new program, ETCEP (Educational Technology and Conservation Exchange Program), is a unique fund-raising plan that can provide schools with state-of-the-art computer technology without any cost to area taxpayers.
Does this sound too good to be true?
Created and managed by ERS Imaging Supplies, Inc., the leading organization in the world dedicated to recovering and processing spent ink and laser cartridges, the program initially piloted in South New Hampshire in the spring 1997, was expanded nationwide this year. In this program, public or private schools in the U.S. (levels K-college) collect empty ink jet and laser printer cartridges. Those cartridges, which ordinarily would be thrown away, earn points that are accumulated and then exchanged for classroom computer technology. ETCEP expects 10,000 schools to participate in the program by the end of the '98-99 school year.
"The students and parents at my school are always great about bringing in anything we might ask for and usually in large amounts so they have been great about this as well," says Shannon Allsop, ETCEP coordinator at Oakridge Elementary School in Salt Lake City.
"I started with our school's business partner, and they have been just wonderful," Allsop said. "They had 18 [cartridges] waiting for me the first time we picked up from them. I then had my class draw little posters and thank you notes for the company."
Company workers have posted those messages from Oakridge students wherever there are printers that will have cartridge changes.
"I have now enlisted the help of a parent, and she is pursuing leads on companies that might have cartridges," adds Allsop. "The principal has taken the matter to the community council, and we have some members there who might soon be working with us...We are planning on having a display in each room at parent conferences and asking teachers to make an effort for those contacts."
"The first thing that attracted me [to the ETCEP program] is there is no money involved, no students selling things door-to-door," says Judy Mims, librarian and ETCEP administrator at Caesar Rodney High School in Camden, Delaware.
"I have found that you really need to get corporations and government agencies involved to sponsor you," adds Mims. "I asked Bell Atlanticand once it was published in the paper, I got a spot on the morning news which brought focus to the project. We had government agencies call and ask about giving us their cartridges."
The entire ETCEP program can be administered through the program's Web site, including scheduling cartridge pick-up, viewing current account status, and exchanging points for computer equipment. The ETCEP program also provides schools with a sample press release, a letter to parents, and a letter to businesses to help them get as many people as possible involved in the collection of spent printer cartridges.
With a market value of over $500 million, the collection and recycling of empty cartridges provides a substantial funding opportunity for our nation's schools. If a school has 600 children, and only 50 percent of those bring in two cartridges per year, the school would earn over 4800 points, enough for a Pentium computer and an ink jet printer. The average school district has the potential to generate enough points to acquire more than eight complete high-end computer systems a year.
"Imagine how many cartridges a school could collect if the community and local businesses became involved!" says Dave Steffens, spokesperson for ETCEP.
The incentive for students to get involved in this program goes beyond free computer equipment for their schools. The project benefits the environment too!
For each cartridge that is manufactured, more than three quarts of oil are burned, says Steffens. So, in just seven months of each year, the cartridge re-manufacturing industry conserves more oil than the 10.9 million gallons that the Exxon Valdez spilled into Prince William Sound in 1989! In 1998 nearly 200 million empty ink jet cartridges and 43 million laser cartridges will be thrown away, and those non-biodegradable cartridges will wind up in U.S. landfills. The re-manufacturing process diverts over 38,000 tons of empty cartridges from our already overburdened landfills.
Re-manufacturing laser printer cartridges is a growth industry. Annual revenue is expected to exceed $1.1 billion in 1998. A new laser printer cartridge costs over $100, but used cartridges can be refilled and sold to the consumer at a fraction of the cost. In addition, the ink jet printing market is experiencing explosive growth. As with laser printer cartridges, there is a huge consumer demand for low-cost ink jet printer ribbons. Market demand for empty cartridges is around 25-40 million cartridges annually.
We have a long way to go before we can fill that need, adds Steffens, but ETCEP is trying to do just that. ETCEP's collection/distribution centers span two continents and six time zones, reclaiming approximately 150,000 laser and inkjet cartridges per month. The company turns over the cartridges to firms that either recondition the cartridges or reuse the components and then resell them.
Each empty laser and ink jet cartridge a school collects is worth approximately 8 points or up to $10.00, says Steffens. Once a school has collected 10 or more cartridges, they package and send them to the ETCEP collection/distribution site nearest them. The cartridges are inspected and assigned points. The school may exchange the accrued points for state-of-the-art computer systems or peripherals at any time. Currently there are more than 200 different technology-related products from which to choose.
There are a few caveats.
On a cautionary note, the ETCEP program accepts only original laser and ink jet cartridges, not photocopier cartridges or re-manufactured printer cartridges. For example, Nashua, Data Products, and Xerox cartridges are re-manufactured products and are not accepted. ETCEP does accept Hewlett Packard, Cannon, IBM, Panasonic, Epson, and NEC cartridges, among others, but it might be advisable for schools to check the company's Web site to make sure the products they are collecting are ones the company accepts.
Another note of caution concerns the fragility of cartridges. Ink jet and laser cartridges are quite fragile; if they are not packaged carefully, they can break during shipment. Schools receive no points for the broken cartridges. To protect the cartridges, ETCEP recommends shipping them in original containers whenever possible or in custom-designed boxes, which the program provides free of charge. The boxes ETCEP provides come already labeled. A school needs only drop the boxes off at a UPS Service center or call UPS to have them come by and pick them up. All shipping costs are paid by ETCEP.
Allsop found that most of the laser cartridges their school collected came in the boxes for the replacement cartridges the people had installed. "Lots of people even left the Styrofoam holders in the boxes," adds Allsop. "We stuffed newspapers around the ones that didn't have original packing or seemed a bit loose."
Word about the program is starting to get out. The Governor's office and the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education have adopted the E.T.C.E.P. Program as a statewide initiative for the 98-99 school year, and the E.T.C.E.P. Program was featured at the National PTA/PTO conference in Nashville this June.
Do you want to get your school involved? Schools can register for this program directly on the ETCEP Web site or by calling toll-free 888-88-ETCEP.
--Photo courtesy of ETCEP
Article by Glori Chaika
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