McMaster’s commitment to reuse and recycle IT waste has diverted well over 250,000 lbs of electronics waste from landfill since 2009 and provided more than 2,000 lbs of refurbished computers to people in need in 2019 alone.
In 2009, McMaster began addressing IT waste with a focus on waste stream diversion through recycling and reuse. Over the past decade, the university has continually expanded and enhanced its program by engaging staff, faculty, students, and members of the community.
From McMaster alone, it is estimated that more than 2,000 computers are diverted from landfill and sent for recycling each year, however many of them have the potential for extended use. Most recently, in the summer of 2019, McMaster began exploring opportunities to further reduce its IT waste. Through collaboration with a social enterprise known as SLSH greenBYTE, McMaster’s three-pronged approach reduces IT waste, provides opportunities for student experiential learning, and helps to donate refurbished electronics to those in need.
During the 2019 fall semester alone, more than 1,000 kilograms of IT equipment was diverted from recycling, 70 complete computers were fabricated from donated components by greenBYTE for local kids in need, 150 devices were repurposed by McMaster students, countless staff, faculty, and students took part in the success of this pilot, and six McMaster undergraduate students, one graduate student, and their community project champions helped to make a big difference in the community.
The recent pilot described above did not happen overnight. It is part of a decade-long evolution of a program that aims to reduce IT waste through collection, reuse, and continuous improvement. Furthermore, we aspire that this project can serve as an example of collaboration, community engagement, experiential learning, creativity, and innovation.
This project is highly transferable to any school, specifically as it describes an evolution of learning from minimal beginnings to where we are today. Throughout this application, we have described the program in two broad categories — Version 1.1 and Version 2.1. We have done this not only to present the evolution of our program but to also support other institutions that may be at different places in their own journey in addressing IT waste.
Version 1.1 of the program requires: available IT waste, a department such as Facility Services to collect equipment and make it available for reuse, and a vendor to responsibly recycle any remaining equipment. Version 2.1 of the program (where we are today) requires: available IT waste; departments of Facility Services, to collect and store devices, and University Technology Services, to sanitize hard drives for reuse; communities in-need of low-costs, high-quality, refurbished IT equipment; and, ideally, access to students interested in experiential learning.
Important steps to take to facilitate the program’s transferability, focusing specifically on Version 2.1, include:
1. Visioning to ensure all parties share a common vision and goal for the project outcome. For us at McMaster, it was important to focus on waste reduction and reuse before recycling. Additionally, when piloting Version 2.1, values of community engagement and student experiential learning were at the forefront when considering the impact we wanted to have.
2. Engage a community partner. If the desire is to donate equipment within the community, having a community partner who has already invested time and energy into fostering a relationship with the community, and who can continue to assume that role, ensures respect for the community and effectiveness in outcomes. Likewise, donating devices within the student community is far more effective when university departments leverage the connections and relationships of student groups to host and publicize the donation event. We worked with greenBYTE who fully refurbished all devices, worked with local elementary school principals who they had well-established relationships with, and assumed the role of on-going maintenance of devices and a point of contact going forward. We also worked with a well-established student group, McMaster Engineering Society, to host the student donation event.
3. Provide opportunities for student experiential learning. Connecting with Faculties and/or departments that provide students with opportunities to tackle real-world problems as part of their course work is an effective way to connect with the university’s mission, gain fresh insight, and leverage additional support. Furthermore, we found that our focus on student learning helped to generate interest and support by members of the university community. When piloting Version 2.1, the students took the lead on promotion and communication of the project. We believe that one of the main reasons why the news articles and social media posts received so much attention was due to positive response to student leadership and innovation.
4. Consult and engage champions. During the Version 2.1 pilot, the students consulted staff and faculty to understand their perspectives. The students learned the importance of data security and trust, and they were able to incorporate the necessary components into the process and communicate them accordingly. Once the pilot was launched, the staff and faculty project team members reached out to their colleagues to request additional support in engaging, mobilizing, and championing others in their network to donate any unwanted equipment.
Focusing on Version 2.1 of the program, the main aspect that makes this project particularly innovative is the diversity of collaborators involved. The project included faculty, staff, students, a not-for-profit, and community. In addition to the main project team members, there were countless other individuals who contributed skills and expertise, including website and media design, waivers and legal advice, creation of online forms, marketing and promotion, as well as media and public relations. While focusing on Version 2.1 for brevity of the application, it is important to note that similar collaborations existed during earlier iterations, as can be seen throughout the supporting documents and responses to follow.
During the development of Version 2.1, each collaborating party brought their unique lens, which further enhanced the process and the outcomes. Some examples include:
Consultation and Active Listening. The department of University Technology Services (UTS) recommended that the students consult the Tech Roundtable to gain the perspective of IT support staff. Facility Services connected the student team members with staff members, and their faculty supervisor connected them to faculty members and researchers. The students gained a deep understanding of the concerns present and, with the support of their staff and faculty project team members, developed solutions to address the concerns and communicate about them. Specifically, it was agreed that Facility Services would collect devices from the individual donor’s office, remove the hard drive, deliver the hard drive to UTS for sanitization, and then reinstall the hard drive before releasing the device to greenBYTE for donation. We recognized that diversity is our strength and we truly embraced it by including as many perspectives as possible.
Community Engagement. greenBYTE brought knowledge and expertise from many years of forming and fostering relationships with school administrators and community members, and they knew, first-hand, the benefits and challenges faced by recipients who received refurbished devices. Their goal was to ensure that any child who received a computer would have support from greenBYTE for their entire time in school. As such, greenBYTE knew what types of equipment (age, quality, etc.) would be suitable and what would not be. We valued each other’s strengths and expertise, and we fostered an inclusive environment throughout so that everyone knew that their input was valued.
Identifying Opportunities. Once donations began coming in, the student team members identified that there would be a significant amount of equipment that would not be suitable for community donations, and that would end up being recycled. They also saw an opportunity to connect with student clubs who could help make the remaining devices available to university students within their established networks. In this way, the student team members proposed and created a second stream for donation so that even more IT waste would be reused rather than recycled. Again, through creating an inclusive environment where all ideas are welcomed without judgement, great ideas were proposed and innovation flourished.
In conclusion, we hope it is evident that the focus on diversity and inclusion within our collaboration was integral to the success of this project. As such, and resulting from the new relationships that were formed, we have been able to easily extend our approach to tackling other items, such as furniture waste. While furniture waste will have unique challenges, what we have learned and demonstrated from our work with IT waste can be easily transferred.
To demonstrate the theme of this application, the overarching qualitative outcomes are the dedication to collaboration, continuous learning, improvement, and program enhancement, which we have described as a timeline below:
Version 1. The first IT Collection, Reuse, and Recycle event took place on June 22nd, 2009. The event brought together departments of UTS, Facility Services, and the Office of Sustainability. Furthermore, it made IT available for collection and reuse by all members of the university community. As noted in the report , the success of the event led to a commitment to collaborate again in September 2009.
Version 1.2. During the expansion in 2011, the program grew to include four collection sites — two on main campus and one at each of two satellite campuses. Additionally, the program was expanded to include residence students and members of the broader Hamilton community. Students became involved due to an interest in volunteering and first access to sourcing out items for possible reuse.
Version 1.3. In 2012, the program was again expanded to incorporate student experiential learning as part of the student’s academic course work, to begin a contract with an IT recycling company who installed permanent collection bins at select building loading dock locations, and to expand the list of items that could be collected.
Version 2.0. In 2017, students in McMaster’s Academic Sustainability Program (ASP) began working in interdisciplinary teams to tackle the challenge of having a broader impact through the program. The 2017 cohort chose to work with the President of the McMaster Students Union, and they focused on the education of and collection within the student body. Student project leaders were enrolled in the course, SUSTAIN 3S03 — Implementing Sustainable Change, which is a course within the ASP department.
Version 2.1. Most recently, the 2019 SUSTAIN 3S03 student cohort formed two interdisciplinary teams to pilot the most recent iteration of the program, as has been extensively described above. To specifically address the qualitative outcomes of the most recent iteration, a diverse group of campus and community partners worked together to reduce IT waste and change the lives of hundreds of individuals within the McMaster and broader community. As an unexpected bonus, the group received notes of appreciation about the enhanced website with FAQ, a list of acceptable items, and the easy-to-use online form; they also noted enhanced customer service, trust with respect to the new process for hard drive sanitization, and feelings of joy and contribution in knowing that their IT trash is on its way to becoming someone else’s treasure.
In early iterations, measurements of reuse were not captured. However, as a lesson learned, this was an area of focus for our most recent pilot of Version 2.1.
Version 1.0. 2009 No quantitative measures were taken in 2009.
Version 1.2. Between January and October 2011, McMaster sent more than 34,000 lbs of IT waste to be recycled. From campus locations alone, McMaster saw a savings of $2,000 on its waste bill as a result of the IT recycling program. 
Version 1.3. Between January and October 2012, McMaster collected and recycled over 15,000 lbs of electronic material. Not only was this material kept from landfill, but its recycling saved more than $900 of waste disposal costs and generated over $1,000 in revenue that was reinvested in other campus sustainability initiatives. 
Version 2.0. In 2017, as part of the student-run, week-long event, an estimated 705 lbs of IT waste was collected by Facility Services and sent for proper recycling. Moreover, numerous students collected items for reuse.  Addditionally, McMaster’s 2017 total IT waste report, which includes all IT waste collected, totals 52,626 lbs
2018 Waste Audit. 54,674.64 lbs recycled 
2019 Waste Audit. 90,147 lbs recycled 
Version 2.1. Measuring outcomes of the Version 2.1 pilot  was an area of focus and resulted in a number of measures being taken, which are reported on as follows:
- Campus Wide Promotion of Pilot Program
- Most read McMaster Daily News article posted that week 
- Campuswide IT Collection Event:
- Received more than 100 pieces of equipment 
- Studentled IT Donation Event Co-hosted with the McMaster Engineering Society (MES)
- 200 students attended 
- 150 devices (90% of items made available at the event) upcycled by students within a 30minute timeframe 
- Community Donation through greenBYTE
- 70 computers donated to youth in need 
- greenBYTE estimates the value of refurbished computers that were donated to the community at $12,500 and the remaining computer parts that could not be configured to form a complete computer at an additional $1,5003,000.
- Waste Diversion
- Over 2,200 lbs of IT equipment diverted from the recycling stream through reuse