How to dispose of hazardous household materials: Computer and Cellphone Edition!

August 22nd, 2011

A decrease in production costs and rapid technological advancements has created an environment in which buying a new computer, mobile phone and their accompanying accessories are as common as changing your underwear!  We all know how it goes: you get a new computer or phone, you obsess over how superior it is to its predecessor, you spend lots of money on the latest accessories and protective cases… And then alas, merely a few months later you wake up one morning to find out there is an even better and more advanced device out on the market. After exercising a certain degree of self-control, most of us generally crack and indulge in buying the new and updated version of what we already had, before it is actually necessary! The big question then becomes what to do with these “old”  items!?!? As we will discuss below there are a number of environmental and community friendly ways that you can dispose of your “ancient” computers, cell phones, printers, cables, mice, keyboards…etc. One thing that you should NOT do is simply toss these items in the trash because many of them contain toxic levels of mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic and beryllium.


First thing we must be mindful of here is what is on our hard drives. In this day and age, we use our computers for pretty much everything including banking, paying bills, shopping, filing taxes…etc. This means that much of our important personal information such as account numbers, social security numbers, credit card info and so on are readily accessible via our hard drives. Before disposing of an old computer we must, therefore, ensure that others are not able to access this information. Simply deleting and trashing files is not enough. There are a few ways to protect ourselves:

1)  A cheap and effective method is to remove the hard drive from the computer and either store it in a safe place or destroy it (using a hammer or axe).

2) There are programs such as Darik’s Boot and Nuke which will permanently delete all the data from the hard drive. This can be a lengthy process but definitely worth the time! Note: if you don’t have patience/competence to use one of these programs you can always ask one of your “geeky” tech-savy friends or relatives to help you out.

Once you destroy the private data on your hard drive you have a few options to ditch your old computer:

a) You can drop off the computer and its accompanying accessories at a thrift store or local retailer who will refurbish and donate it to schools or people in need. Note: If your computer is over 5 years old it may be too costly to upgrade and you should, therefore, consider another option.

b) You can try to sell it either to a local electronics retailer or online. You can also do this with old keyboards, mice, printers and cables.

c) You can repurpose it by updating it using Linux and giving to your children, parents, or grandparents to do simple things like surf the internet, play games, and use their email.

d) You can keep it and use it as a backup. We’ve all had computer problems and it is nice to have something to use while our prized possession is at the repair shop.

e) Many companies such as Dell and HP will let you trade in your computer when you buy a new one from them.

f) Now if your computer is actually ancient (as in from the 80s or 90s) you may consider donating it to an old computer museum in your area.


Ink cartridges tend to contain many toxic materials that if discarded in the trash and ultimately in a landfill can pollute our air and water supply. Many office supply retailers have cartridge recycling programs in place. Sometimes this may even translate into a store discount. Another option is to look at the manufacturing company’s website and see if they reuse the empty cartridges. If that is the case you can send in your empties in for reuse.


With cellphones, as with computers, we must remember that their is a lot of important personal data that is saved on it. The first thing to do would be to remove the SIM card (assuming that there is one) and destroy it. Secondly, you should permanently delete all info stored on your old cellphone. Generally you can find how to do so either by looking at the owner’s manual, or on your wireless provider’s or the phone manufacturer’s website.

Once you have ensured that all important information has been removed from the phone you can do one of a few things. Remember that cell phones contain batteries and batteries have high levels of toxic metals that are harmful to our environment. So again tossing it in the trash is not an environmentally responsible way to dispose of your old phone. Alternative and greener options are to:

a)  Sell the phone and its accessories on websites such as eBay.

b) Donate phone to an organization that will redistribute them to the less fortunate.

c) Recycle it by dropping the phone off at your local wireless service provider’s store or sending it back to the manufacture (assuming that they have a recycling program in place).

**It is important to keep in mind that the best way to protect our environment is to limit our consumption of electronic items and only get new ones on an as need basis!!

How to dispose of hazardous household waste: Light Bulb Edition!

August 16th, 2011

We all at one point or another have encountered the question of what do you do with household materials and products that can’t be put in the trash yet can’t be recycled in a conventional manner either. The big question then is what to do with these products?!?! Sometimes, for lack of better options, we shove these things in a cabinet or drawer in an attempt to deny their existence. We all know, however, that this is a temporary fix and that ultimately it will come back to haunt us in the form of clutter. Other times, we trash or flush these items but not without feeling a certain degree of guilt. Over the next few days we will explore how to dispose of light bulbs, batteries, electronics (including computers and mobile phones), and toxic materials (including paint and pesticides) in a clean and green way!

Light bulbs

Light bulbs can be classified in 3 general categories:

a) Compact Florescent Lights (CFL)    b) Energy-saving bulbs  c) Incandescent bulbs

The former two contain mercury which is hazardous to both the environment and our health. For this reason the bulbs should NOT be tossed in the trash or your in your regular recycling bin. Virtually all material that makes up a light bulb is recyclable. Remember that if the mercury ends up in the ocean it will be consumed by marine life and ultimately end up our dinner plates!

Pregnant women who are exposed to mercury can pass it on to their fetus which can in turn result in birth defects including but not limited to: mental retardation, a lack of coordination, blindness, seizures, and the inability to speak. There are a few ways to dispose of these. Firstly, you can research your local recycling centers to see which one will recycle these bulbs. Another alternative, is to check with your local hardware store and see if they have a recycling program in place.

*Note: If one of these mercury containing light bulbs break you need to ensure that you clean it up and dispose of it in a safe manner. DO NOT use a vaccum, or broom (this will increase exposure).

a) Air out the area where the bulb broke. Keep children, pets, and pregnant women away from the affected area.

b) Put on rubber or latex gloves, pick up all pieces of glass and place in a ziploc bag.

c) Use a squeegee or piece of cardboard to gather all the mercury beads in a pile.

d) Use an eye-droplet to collect the beads.

e) Put the beads on a damp paper towel.

f) Put the paper towel in the ziploc bag.

g) put everything involved in the clean up including the gloves in a trash bag.

h) contact your local health department, municipal waste authority, or local fire department to find out how to dispose of the waste safely.

*Keep in mind that the same clean-up process holds true for all items containing mercury (i.e: thermometers)

Tomorrow we will discuss the different kinds of batteries that exist and how to dispose of them accordingly!

The basics of recycling: what you should know but probably don’t!

August 15th, 2011

We all KNOW we should recycle but most of us are ignorant as to WHAT and HOW to recycle! Many of us assume that by simply tossing our recyclables in the bin we are doing the right thing. Although this is an important step in the process there are a few additional things to be mindful of here. We will explore how to be an effective and conscientious recycler which in turn will enable us to keep our planet and OCEANS green and clean.

The first question we must answer is what can be recycled? Generally, recyclables are divided into four categories: Plastics, Metals, Paper and Glass. Depending on your local recycling laws you may or may not have to divide your recyclables accordingly.

The next question would be: What materials from these catagories is actually recyclable? and How do we recycle them?

1) Plastics:

Most plastics including but not limited to bottles, bags, and containers are recyclable, however, ONLY if they are RINSED OUT, CLEANED, and EMPTIED. For plastic bottles:

What did I ever do to you?!?!

a) remove cap      b) Rinse and empty bottle

c) Flatten bottle   d) replace cap

Please remember when recycling “6 pack rings” you should cut them up so as to prevent any sort of marine life tragedy. None of us want to be responsible for injuring or killing an innocent creature!

* Note: Styrofoam, toys, airbags as well as all other plastic containers containing toxic material (such motor oil..etc) are NOT recyclable! The best way to deal with these plastics is to either limit/avoid consumption of products packaged in them and/or find creative ways to reuse them!!

2) Metals

Tin, steel, and aluminum are among the metals that can be recycled. Again, we must ensure that all cans are cleaned and emptied.

*Note: Aluminum foil, hangers, Helium containers, paint containers and scarp metal (nails, screws…etc) cannot be recycled. You can research places in your area that will take this things off your hands and put them to good use.

3) Paper

Most forms of paper products including, newspaper, cardboard, paper cups and plates (must be rinsed out first!), books, and magazines can be put in the recycling bin. Remember to keep all shredded paper separately from the rest.

*Note: facial tissues, soiled paper towel along with pizza boxes (these are too greasy!) can not be recycled. The good news… you can compost these things!

4) Glass

Glass bottles, jars, and containers can all be placed in your recycling bin. Beware, however, broken glass should be placed in the trash (or better yet used as art material) and NOT in the recycling.

*Note: Items such as mirrors, dishware, cups and glasses, and decoration and ornaments are not recyclable! Using these as arts and crafts material with the little ones is a fun, creative, and effective way to turn potential garbage into art:)

By informing and educating your children about the do’s and don’ts of recycling you are directly ensuring a cleaner and greener planet and OCEAN in the future. And KIDS it is up to you to teach your parents to be more environmentally aware for the sake of your futures!

Plastic Reference Guide

July 20th, 2011

Check out this great infographic about recycling plastic courtesy of Plastiki!  Click here to download the poster.

Look out Los Angeles You Can Now Recycle More of Your Household Items!

June 20th, 2011

The city of Los Angeles has made recent changes on what new household items are recyclable and what are not. Check out this piece from the Los Angeles Times, Can I Recycle… to see what you can recycle in your local neighborhood.

Many new items are on the list, so take a look and help reduce plastic pollution in our city. If you are interested in more information, go to the Los Angeles County Residential Recycling Program to learn more.

Remember, Reduce, Reuse Recycle! Protect our Oceans and Give Them a Voice!

Sea•thos Has a Fun Day at Loyola Village Elementary

June 1st, 2011

On Thursday May 26th, Sea•thos visited the students of the the Loyola Village Elementary School after-school program. Sea•thos interns Jasmin and Quinsi worked with K-5th graders to brainstorm why we love the ocean and why it is so important. The students learned mainly about plastic pollution through hands on activities such as a “Float or Sink” demo in which the children learned how different types of plastic degrade.

After coloring marine-life worksheets, Loyola Village students also decorated recycling bins with their own sea-life drawings. They were given prizes for guessing how long plastic items break down and were shocked to learn the correct answers.

We were excited to see how passionate they were about protecting the water and giving the Ocean a voice. Tim, a first-grader, who when asked what ocean would say if it had a voice said, “I’m Hungry!” One of our favorite bins decorated by the students read, “Dont mess with the sea” in large white letters.

Each of the decorated recycle bins will be placed in the school’s classrooms so that the children can put their new knowledge to practice!

Showing off their impressive artwork. Very nice!