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Cell phones

OK, so I have iPhone envy. I admit it. I mean who doesn’t? It has 3G technology! (Never mind that I had to look up what exactly 3G technology meant). I’ll probably buy one when they become available next month. But this begs the question, what am I do to with my no longer as cool Blackberry Pearl?

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 100 million cell phones are no longer used annually. These phones, which more often than not, end up in landfills, can contain metals such as lead, and other plastics and chemicals like cadmium and arsenic which are all hazardous and can pose serious health risks. The EPA also estimates that if we recycled all of these phones we could save enough energy to power nearly 200,000 U.S. homes for a year.

So, if you’re like me, and you plan on upgrading your primary method of communication this summer, let’s try to act responsibly and make sure we recycle our old cell phones. Fortunately there are dozens of places we can do this. I’m going to head on over to Collective Good’s Recycle My Cell Phone website which allows me to mail in my cell phone to a facility where they refurnish or recycle all pieces of your cell phone and importantly, they don’t export hazardous waste to developing countries, or dump it in municipal landfills.

Many cell phone companies have been pushed into creating their own recycling program for example AT&T has its own program which anyone who buys a new iPhone can drop off their old one at their point of purchase.

The dilemma of what to do with your old cell phone really begs the larger question of how we deal (or don’t) with electronic waste in this country, and in turn how we deal with sustainable consumption and production practices. For some scary facts about what e-waste is, click here. Recycling your cell phone is a good first step to taking greater responsibility for the electronic waste that you create.

Now that I know where my phone will end up, I can literally be, green with envy.
Elizabeth R. Miller is a Senior Program Associate at The Overbrook Foundation and is patiently counting down the days until July 11th.

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If you’re like any average New Yorker, you probably have a very small mailbox. And at the end of the day you probably check that very small mailbox to find it stuffed to the gills with unwanted junk mail. One of the biggest offenders of junk mail is those pesky catalogs that go directly from your mailbox to the recycling bin (hopefully) or to garbage can (more likely).


Well you’re not alone. According to Environmental Defense and its Paper Calculator, 19 billion catalogs are mailed to American consumers each year. And the number of trees the catalog industry uses to produce those 19 billion catalogs is 53 million (no wonder NYC has nearly no trees…) Those catalogs use nearly 3.6 million tons of paper and create enough waste water discharge to fill 53 billion gallons of water, or 81,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.


By now you might have stopped to ask yourself – in the days of the internet, who uses catalogs anymore? And how can I get them to stop infiltrating my mailbox?


Well, that’s exactly where Catalog Choice (www.catalogchoice.org) comes in. In just eight short months, Catalog Choice has grown to be the largest opt-out service for catalogs, and remains the only free service that lets you decline catalogs you no longer want to receive. To date there are over 910,000 members that have opted out of nearly 12 million catalogs. Its user-friendly website allows you to create an account and send opt-out requests directly to merchants on your behalf.


And are these merchants complying with the opt-out request? Well some – currently about 240 catalog companies – are participating, such as L.L. Bean and Tiffany & Co., and they should be applauded for their efforts to listen to consumers. There are other companies that aren’t yet – and they need to be pressured into complying with these kinds of requests.


If you’re already a member of Catalog Choice, head on over to their blog, and let the folks over there know how it’s working for you. If you’re not yet a member, sign up today and make some more space in your mailbox. Because in the end, it’s not about separating consumers from the goods they want to buy, it’s about increasing market-place efficiencies while reducing unnecessary waste.


Elizabeth R. Miller is a Senior Program Associate at The Overbrook Foundation and has opted out of 19 catalogs.

Given that the environment is VPF’s topic for 2008, I have been reading up on some of the really great things happening to engage, educate and change the less enviro-friendly habits of my fellow New Yorkers. One of the things I ran across recently is “The Story of Stuff”.

Watch it, learn and be totally amazed at the true story of the new gadget you are crushing on right now. Below is a sneak preview:

And for the whole mini-film go to www.storyofstuff.com

How does this relate to VPF? Well, if we are to consider the true meaning of philanthropy (which is “goodwill to fellowmen; especially : active effort to promote human welfare” thanks to Webster’s Dictionary), then caring for our local and global environment has everything to do with it.

Basically, we need to tend to the global nest to ensure a viable future for human beings. Or, in another animal kingdom analogy, we shouldn’t be doing our duty where we we sleep. So if we begin to think about how things are made and who has to deal with the subsequent waste, we quickly realize that it ends up in somebody’s bed. If it’s a somebody, then it’s a human. If it’s human, then a good philanthropist will be concerned. If we are concerned, then we might think twice about what we buy. Get it?

Recently, VPF members elected the environment as the topic we will focus on in 2008 – meaning that our Grants Committee team is currently hard at work developing an RFP to actively seek out New York City’s most innovative, emerging social entrepreneurs that are tackling local environmental issues.

Appropriately, I had a discussion this morning with the Advisory Council about how we can best frame the environmental topic and differentiate ourselves from all the other funders focusing on the exact same thing. I was worried that we would be buried beneath the deluge of money currently being invested into environmental organizations and related projects. I envisioned two months of waiting for our first grant application going by with no biters because of massive wealth to be found elsewhere.

Then, to my utter surprise, I learned that though the environment is showing the largest gains in funding, it still is one of the least funded subject areas overall. For instance, in 2005 education ranked first (of 10 categories) in share of grant dollars claiming 24% of the funding, while the environment ranked sixth and gathered only 6%. Even when looking at the number of total grants given, the environment still came in sixth place (of 10), claiming only  8,195 grants from a total of 130,961 given in 2005. (Click here to see a full report from the Foundation Center 2007 Giving Trends report).

It’s a disappointment to learn this on Earth Day, of all days. But it provides more fuel for the engine – environmentally-friendly, non-polluting, fuel that is.

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