Extending the Front Porch: How to Host a Church E-Waste Collection Event

[Ed. note: This article is part of our weekly series of church activities, called Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays.]

Your church is a little far afield? There's still lots it can do in your community!

It’s exciting to dream of our churches being, like traditional front porches, intermediary spaces of welcome where neighbors can form community that is more enriching than social networking or watching TV or getting trapped in other electricity- and technology- driven substitutes for face-to-face fellowship.

But for many of us, these dreams will remain just dreams for one simple reason: location, location, location.

Whether it’s in the middle of farm fields or locked between dangerous suburban arterial roads, many of our churches are in no way accessible by bike or foot, the way a front porch ought to be. We could plant gardens or host block parties, but they wouldn’t have the curbside appeal of events at a church in town. So what are we to do?

Fortunately, physical isolation is no need for a church to give up on being hospitable, neighborly, or even green in the vein of a front porch culture. For example, many far-flung churches own giant swathes of parking lot. That space, often reviled by the eco-police, can actually be used for the good of our communities and creation. Here’s how:

E-Cycling at Your Church

Techie? Dispose of your outdated electronics in a creation-friendly, people-friendly way.

Utilize your parking lot space for the good or your neighborhood by hosting an electronic waste collection event in it!

The electronics we use—computers, cell phones, televisions, radios, etc.—are so useful to us in part because of the complex networks of metals and chemicals that makes them work. However, those same elements release toxic compounds into our soil and water if they are disposed of improperly or unnecessarily, in which case they are considered “e-waste.” More responsible disposal of these items allows for their components—often valuable commodities like copper, gold, and aluminum—to be recycled by qualified recycling programs.

Cities can provide annual e-waste collections for citizens, but as a smaller operation, a church has the opportunity to offer this service to its community more often. An e-waste collection is an easy activity for community members to participate in, because they don’t even have to get out of their cars. Instead, they drive into the collection area with their electronics in their car trunk, and volunteers remove the electronics and send the drivers on their way. Of course, your church can choose to make the process more familiar, offering refreshments to those who drop of their electronics, or handing out literature about e-waste recycling or other upcoming events at your church. Whatever you choose to do, here are the basics for hosting an e-waste collection event:

1. Find a reliable e-waste recycling facility

  • Your church’s responsibility in this activity is just to be a convenient collection site for your community—no actual recycling is expected of you. But it is important to deliver the collected items to a reputable recycling facility. Sometimes e-waste is “recycled” by being shipped overseas, where the poorest of the poor extract precious metals from the electronics through dangerous processes and without protective gear.
  • Find a local, trustworthy, thorough electronics recycling facility through this list provided by e-Stewards. Participating facilities on this list have signed the Electronic Recycler’s Pledge of True Stewardship, ensuring that their recycling practices are both environmentally and socially responsible.
  • For a broader selection of retailers, manufacturers, municipalities, and charities that recycle electronics, visit Earth911 or the EPA’s E-Waste website. Be aware that not all of these recyclers adhere to the rigorous guidelines of the Electronic Recycler’s Pledge of True Stewardship, and that some only accept certain electronics. Your best option is to contact local recyclers once you find them, and ask them about their recycling practices and the extent of their environmental and social commitments.

2. Choose a location

  • As mentioned above, a large parking lot (or network of parking lots) is your best option for accepting your neighbors’ old electronics. Keep in mind that you will need room for people to drive into and out of the collection area, as well as space for the receptacles in which you will store the electronics you collect.
  • If possible, choose a parking lot that has multiple entrances, or a separate entrance and exit, so that traffic can be easily directed through the collection site.
  • Notify your local police department about the collection event well in advance. Police officers may want to direct traffic on the roads surrounding your event. They can also inform you of any local recycling or event permits your collection event will require.

Make yourself useful, parking lot!

3. Gather volunteers

  • Traffic guides – These volunteers will direct cars into and out of the collection area. Collection events can attract a lot of participants, so be prepared to usher cars through the process as efficiently as necessary.
  • Greeters – These volunteers will welcome participants and provide them with instructions (stay in their car while trunks are emptied of electronics, or park and get out for a coffee, depending on what your church decides to do). They can also provide participants with a sheet explaining the importance of electronics recycling, or other information your church might wish to distribute.
  • Collectors/Sorters – These volunteers, some of whom should be pretty strong to lift heavier electronics, will remove electronics from participants’ trunks and place them in boxes or on pallets. If your recycling destination requires the electronics to be sorted, these volunteers can also do that sorting.
  • Food servers – Whether you provide refreshments for folks brining their electronics, or just for other volunteers, you will need volunteers to serve snacks and drinks throughout the day.
  • Trackers – If you choose (or are required by the recycler you work with) to count the material coming in, these volunteers can do that using a system that you or the recycler establish.
  • Drivers – These volunteers will cart the collected items to their final destination at the recycling center you have already made an arrangement with, if that center doesn’t come to your event to haul the electronics away (this is something many recyclers are willing to do, so find out from your recycler ahead of time if this is part of the plan).
  • When organizing volunteers, encourage them to dress appropriately for the weather, and also to bring work gloves (unless you intend on providing these) and wear sturdy shoes (nothing with an open toe!).
  • Provide food and drinks for volunteers, and determine ahead of time shifts that volunteers can fill.

4. Gather supplies

  • Orange traffic cones, flags, and safety vests to help your traffic guides direct cars through the collection event.
  • Signage to mark and direct people to the event.
  • Inventory sheets to mark the type and number of electronics collected. This can be used to inform your church, community, or city about the success of the day, and it can also be used to generate awareness about the need for proper electronics recycling. Keep it on hand to compare this collection event to ones you will do in the future.
  • Bins, boxes, and pallets to hold the electronics collected. The recycling center you work with may be willing to provide appropriate receptacles for collection, so check this out ahead of time.
  • Food and drinks for volunteers.

5. Get the word out!

  • Advertise the event in all of your church communication venues (bulletin, website, in-service announcements, etc.).
  • Use social media venues (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to advertise the event at no extra cost.
  • Advertise publicly, if financially feasible, in local papers and circulators, on bulletin boards in shops and libraries, school and city newsletters and websites, etc.
  • Print flyers to be distributed at each household in your church’s neighborhood. Provide these flyers to your congregation, as well, so that church members can distribute them to their own friends and neighbors.
  • When you advertise, be sure to list the times of the event and what electronics qualify for collection. Be specific about these items, so that you don’t have to sift through too many electronics unnecessarily. The recycling facility you coordinate with will be able to tell you what items it accepts, but some commonly collected electronics include: cell phones, televisions, radios, computers (request that participants remove all personal information from hard drives), microwaves, DVD and CD players, telephones, power cords, routers, game consoles, etc.

Related Posts at Flourish
Front Porch Revival: The Past, Present, and Future of a Neighborhood Mainstay
Analog to Digital: Making the Switch Responsibly

Further Reading
e-Stewards – Find local recyclers facilities where your old electronics will be processed and reused in an environmentally and socially manner
EPA E-Cycling guide – Learn more about e-cycling and government-sponsored e-cycling events
Earth911 – An A – Z guide to responsibly recycling anything


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