SMMUSD prevented e-waste from entering the refuse system by organizing donations through a nonprofit partner, Human I-T. Courtesy photo.

This summer the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District partnered with nonprofit Human I-T to donate old electronics to low-income families, thereby preventing almost 2,000 lbs of e-waste from entering landfills. This program helps meet families’ elevated need for personal electronics during distance learning and advances the District’s sustainability goals.

“We donated 147 items and that was all diverted from the landfill, which is pretty important for sustainability reasons as there are a lot of harmful and toxic chemicals and heavy metals in electronic waste items,” said Austin Toyama, Sustainability Coordinator at SMMUSD.

This program was scheduled to occur early in the spring, but was put on hold due to the pandemic. However, in June Toyama helped restart it and traveled to six different schools collecting old laptops, computers and printers with the help of staff from Human I-T. Human-I-T then took these unwanted devices, fixed them, and distributed them to low income community members free of charge.

This e-waste collection program is part of SMMUSD’s sustainability goals, which include recycling 100% of the District’s end-of-life electronics. While many people are aware of the importance of recycling paper, glass and plastic, fewer understand the dangerous effects e-waste can have on the environment.

“Over time as e-waste compresses in landfills, toxic chemicals and heavy metals can leak into the ground and make their way into the environment. When that happens animals can ingest some of the heavy metals and toxins and that can eventually make its way to us,” said Toyama. “So we try to keep it contained by keeping it out of landfills and reusing these items as much as possible. If Human-I-T is not able to use the items, they have their own way of properly disposing of those materials, otherwise it can contaminate soil, groundwater, and the air.”

While sustainability initiatives are becoming more prevalent in school districts across the state, SMMUSD is dedicated to a robust and comprehensive environmental plan that stands out among the others, according to Toyama. Part of this program includes a strong environmental education for SMMUSD’s students.

Across the District’s elementary school, students are taught how to properly sort waste by separating their food from recyclable materials. Santa Monica High School has a student-run tree and plant nursery called Branching Out, where students receive an education in gardening, environmental science and nutrition. Although many of these participatory environmental programs are on pause while students are studying remotely, the District remains committed to its sustainability goals.

The e-waste recycling project is an example of a sustainability initiative that not only can continue during distance learning, but is more important than ever before as families have an urgent need for personal electronic devices. This program falls under the “solid waste” category of the District’s sustainability goals, which also include climate, education, energy efficiency and renewables, water, transportation, food and nutrition, and green buildings.