Behind the Scenes of Goodwill’s Computer Recycling

This past Monday, my Computing Ecology class traveled to Pittsfield, MA to visit the headquarters of Goodwill Industries of the Berkshires to learn about what happens to electronic equipment donated to Goodwill.  Prior to the trip, we had been reading about and discussing the difficult and not widely reported state of affairs related to e-waste recycling – an all-too-steady stream of stories of environmental and human devastation resulting from the export of toxic electronic trash to Asian and African countries.  So, what happens to electronic equipment donated to Goodwill?  Does that e-waste end up on a container ship headed to Guiyu, China?

The short answer, and overwhelmingly positive news is this:  Unwanted electronic equipment donated to Goodwill is recycled responsibly via the Dell Reconnect program.  Frank Engels, CEO of Goodwill Industries fo the Berkshires, several members of his staff, and Jamie Cahillane of the Center for EcoTechnology generously gave our class a behind-the-scenes look at what their organizations do – including the collection and processing of electronic equipment for recycling.  We toured the Pittsfield facility to see the massive amounts of electronic equipment donated by households and companies – enough to fill a tractor trailer truck every two weeks or so, destined for Dell’s recycling facilities.

Prior to visiting Goodwill, we had been curious about what might be happening with all of the unwanted computers and electronics dropped off to Goodwill collection boxes.  As it turns out, not only is the equipment responsibly recycled, but Goodwill also is paid by Dell for each pound of e-waste collected – which helps pay for job training and placement for people in the Berkshires and Southern Vermont region.  All in all, the visit to Goodwill helped not only show the sheer volume of electronic waste we generate (in our sparsely populated region, no less), but also how organizations with a social conscience can help stem the tide of toxic dumping – and still remain financially viable.

Much work remains to be done – in addition to electronic waste, there also exists a huge opportunity for additional work to be done with textiles, plastics and more difficult to recycle household goods like microwaves.  As a result, we left with our original questions answered, but also with a whole host of new questions to think about.

The field trip also included one additional learning experience – where the spare tire is on the college vans.  Once the flat tire was swapped out, we were on our way back to Bennington with time to spare before afternoon classes began.  Quite an adventure!

Science Workshop: Satellite Navigation and the Three-Body Problem

Please join us for our next Science Workshop on Friday, November 30th when visiting mathematician Michael Reardon will discuss his work in the area of satellite navigation. The abstract of his talk is presented below.

Lunar Transfers and the Circular Restricted Three-Body Problem

The Vermont Lunar Lander CubeSat Program is a collaborative effort by students and faculty from four VT colleges and universities with the goal of navigating a small (~10 cm3 ) satellite to lunar orbit. In the first part of this talk I will discuss my role in the project, which was to investigate the feasibility of lunar transfer methods for both low and high thrust propulsion systems. The second part will focus on the mathematical model used to describe the trajectories of satellites in the presence of two gravitating bodies: the Circular Restricted Three-Body Problem (CRTBP). As we will see, the CRTBP provides valuable insight into the problem of lunar transfer trajectory design. Furthermore, the CRTBP is also possessed of a rich dynamical structure whose study provides a window into the world of nonlinear dynamics and chaos.


Pumpkin Heaving on Halloween

The lab for Physics I this week fell on Halloween. We couldn’t pass up the chance to pull out our Trebuchet to heave some pumpkins down towards the pond. The point of the lab was to try to measure the effect of air resistance on the flight of a pumpkin.




As part of the lab, we carefully measured the angle and initial velocity of the pumpkins as they left the Trebuchet. Comparing the theoretical, calculated distance to the measured, actual distance should allow us to measure the air resistance. Moreover, the great challenge in measuring these quantities lead into a discussion of experimental design and how initial uncertainties in measurement can affect calculated quantities.








Julia Evanczuk in the Communications office put together this very nice short video showing off our launch:

Upcoming Science Workshop: Peter Ryan

Please plan ahead for a special Science Workshop with Professor Peter Ryan of Middlebury College on Friday, November 16 at 1:00. The title and abstract of the talk are presented below.



Arsenic in Vermont’s Groundwater Resource and the Connection between Geology and Public Health

Arsenic is a naturally occurring trace element in the natural environment, and in some regions geological factors have conspired to create elevated arsenic concentrations in the rocks and sediments that host groundwater. Research over the past ten years by the Vermont Geological Survey, the Vermont Department of Health and Middlebury College has revealed that certain parts of the state are prone to elevated arsenic in bedrock aquifers – these include parts of the Taconic slate region, the Rowe-Hawley Belt in north-central Vermont and parts of Windsor County in the vicinity of a granitic intrusion. This talk will explore geological, topographic and hydrological controls on groundwater arsenic in the complex geological landscape of Vermont and also reflect on recent changes to public policy as a result of scientific research.