Info about technological advancements throughout history.

Combating the Recycling Crisis: The Lies, the Truth, and EPC’s Promise to You

In December of 2018, we published “Combating the Recycling Crisis,” a blog post written to inform readers of the unfortunate realities of plastics recycling and to offer advice on how best to prevent your waste from ending up in landfills. Our post was based on extensive research and the information available at the time.

However, on Friday, September 11th, 2020, NPR published an article revealing harsh truths about the plastic recycling industry—an industry that has lied to the public for decades. The truth is, most of our plastic, whether we follow the appropriate guidelines or not, will end up buried in a landfill or dumped into our oceans.

While most of us have been somewhat aware of plastic pollution and its devastating effects on our ecosystem, plastic companies such as Exxon, Chevron, and Dow concealed the full extent of the damage through “eco-friendly” messaging, which lauded plastic as easily recyclable. Their goal? To sell more new plastic while avoiding condemnation from environmental activists.

The depressing truth is that out of all the plastic manufactured over the last few decades, less than ten percent has been recycled; and the plastic that does achieve new life can only be reused a couple times before its structure breaks down. This means even the most environmentally responsible consumer’s efforts have been mostly fruitless—at least when it comes to plastic.

For our customers, this news may raise a few concerns. When I drop off my electronics, does EPC really recycle them?

Here’s the honest truth: EPC is committed to recycling 100% of its plastic e-waste, regardless of cost. We believe in protecting the environment and giving your electronics new life, not tossing them away to pollute our planet. As a customer of EPC, you can rest easy, at least when it comes to your phones, laptops, and other devices.

Maybe skip the bottle of soda, though.

A Different Kind of Virus

Twenty years ago, a dangerous virus emerged from Asia and made its way across the globe. The world had never seen anything like it before. People panicked, businesses closed, and governments tried and failed to stop the spread. Over one million were infected in a matter of hours. How, you may ask, did this virus spread so rapidly?

The ILOVEYOU virus, also referred to as the “Love Bug,” was a computer virus unlike any other at the time. An innocuous subject line, “ILOVEYOU,” seemingly sent by a contact. A short message: “kindly check the attached LOVELETTER coming from me.” A file titled “LOVE-LETTER-FOR-YOU.TXT.” Many opened this file, expecting a heartfelt message from a relative, or possibly an awkward romantic gesture from a coworker.

What they didn’t realize was that the file wasn’t a text file at all—it was a Visual Basic script file, its .vbs extension hidden from view. The document, once opened, unleashed a worm that wreaked havoc on the system, seeking out and replacing media files with copies of itself. The worm then accessed the user’s Outlook address book and sent an identical email to every contact, many of whom would go on to open the file themselves, repeating the vicious cycle.

Although the United States had prior warning, it failed to protect its government and businesses from infection. The virus hit the Pentagon, nearly every major military base, AT&T, Ford, and other corporations throughout the country, overloading mail servers and shutting down vital operations.

Worldwide, the virus infected over 45 million computers and caused around $10 billion worth of damage. After an investigation, the man believed to be responsible was Onel de Guzman, a college student from the Philippines who had submitted a similar code for his final thesis. Although there was plenty of evidence against de Guzman, he ultimately faced no charges, as the Philippines had no laws at the time concerning cybercrimes.

The ILOVEYOU virus may not have gotten very far had it been sent out today; automatic spam filters and antivirus software often catch such emails before they ever reach a person’s inbox, especially in corporate settings. But that is no reason to become complacent. In fact, users need to be vigilant, because as protections become stronger, hackers become craftier.

Computer “viruses” earned their name for a reason—much like human viruses, one person’s actions have the potential to infect thousands. To further the analogy, antivirus software is like a mask, shielding yourself and others from transmitting the virus; running frequent scans and keeping your software up-to-date is like washing your hands, ensuring threats are eliminated before infection occurs; and practicing common sense cybersecurity habits is like social distancing, avoiding situations where you put yourself and others at risk. This includes not opening attachments—even from people you know—that you are not expecting, not clicking on strange links, and never giving your password to anyone. Just as it is important to protect your physical health, you must also keep yourself safe from threats to your virtual security.

References:
https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/01/tech/iloveyou-virus-computer-security-intl-hnk/index.html
https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/d73jnk/love-bug-the-virus-that-hit-50-million-people-turns-15

Edit 7/14/2020: This blog post made the mistaken claim that de Guzman was arrested after the virus was released, when in reality, he was never arrested for the crime. This detail has been amended.

Fireworks and Computers: How Modern Programming Revolutionized Pyrotechnics

Throughout their long history, fireworks have served a variety of purposes. The first “fireworks” could be found in China around the year 200 B.C., where bamboo reeds would be tossed into a fire; the air pockets inside the reed would expand and eventually explode. These controlled blasts were likely used to ward off evil spirits. Between 600 and 900 A.D., an alchemist combined saltpeter with sulfur and charcoal, creating the first recipe for gunpowder. The bamboo reeds would be stuffed with this mixture and set alight, creating larger—and more dangerous—explosions. Soon, China used their invention to create weaponry. In the 13th century, it is believed Marco Polo brought fireworks to Europe. The spectacle became quite popular during the renaissance, and fireworks have remained popular ever since. They have been used to celebrate USA’s Independence Day from the very first anniversary on July 4th, 1777, and since Italian pyrotechnicians figured out how to add colors in the 1830s, fireworks displays have stayed much the same to this day.

The technology for running these displays, however, has changed dramatically. It was not until the 1980s that pyrotechnicians created computer programs to choreograph, simulate, and run shows automatically. Before this, calculations had to be done painstakingly by hand, and timing shows to music involved a lot of guess work. Now, computers could do these calculations in minutes rather than hours, and pyrotechnics designers could spend less time worrying about logistics and more time on the creative process. Computers such as the Atari 800XL and the IBM Personal Computer ran some of the first automated fireworks shows, sending signals through a firing box to light the electric matches (known as squibs) with precise timing.

Today, pyrotechnics design has gone even further, with 3D programs that render extremely accurate simulations of a show and communicate with firing devices. Some of these programs are even capable of pulling real 3D models from Google Maps to simulate displays in specific locations. Designers can watch their shows before a single firework is lit. Although fireworks in their construction have remained largely the same over the centuries, the days of guesswork are over, thanks to computers.

If you are planning to set off your own fireworks this year, stay safe and practice common sense. Happy Fourth!

References:

Technology; Fireworks by Computer

Atari Sets Off Fireworks!

https://tedium.co/2019/07/04/fireworks-technology-simulation-history/

What We Can Learn About the Environment From COVID-19

Mere months ago, the biggest threat to the health and wellbeing of our planet present in the public sphere was climate change. Now, as COVID-19 presents the more immediate danger, climate change has been overall set aside in the media. However, as we continue to observe social distancing guidelines, travel has reduced significantly, and more people than ever are working from home, scientists have noticed a positive change in the environment. While some of these alternative social practices are unsustainable in the long run, they still can be a learning opportunity and teach us how we can progress toward a healthier planet in the years to come.

Change is possible. With a global decrease in energy consumption, there is a noticeable difference in our carbon emissions and pollution levels. In China, scientists observed a 25% decrease in CO2 levels over a four-week period. That is a significant for the largest country in the world. Italy showed a similar decrease in pollution during lockdown. This data shows that widespread action is not only possible but can be effective in reducing the negative impact of energy consumption on our environment, and with scientists claiming we have only a decade to save the planet, that news is encouraging.

What’s less encouraging is the threat of emissions rapidly rising after the COVID-19 crisis subsides to meet industrial demands, similar to the aftermath of the 2008 economic recession. Although the drop in pollution is nice, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed to create a lasting positive impact. Still, it’s reassuring to know that our actions matter, and that people and businesses can rise to combat a threat to humanity—it’s a lesson we shouldn’t forget.

A Brief History of Video Games

There is, perhaps, no time like the present to understand the importance video games have in our modern society. With most people stuck inside, our collective playtime has increased drastically over the past few months. Consoles are sold out everywhere, and it seems like you can’t log on to any social media platform without someone discussing the price of turnips—whatever that means.

Just kidding, we know all about the stalk market.

Video games serve as a portal to a world outside our own. But where did they come from? And how do they relate to the development of computer programming?

Many mistakenly cite Atari’s Pong as the first video game, but this simply isn’t true. While Pong was the first successful arcade game, the first interactive electronic game was patented in 1947 by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and was known as the cathode-ray tube amusement device. According to the patent, the “player” would physically attach images of targets such as airplanes to the face of the tube onto preprogrammed coordinates. Using a set of knobs, the player would have a limited amount of time to manipulate a beam of light to fire at the targets. If the beam successfully “hits” the target, a crudely simulated explosion would occur. While Goldsmith’s device was never commercially produced, and it’s likely no prototype was ever built, the patent is the earliest known concept of an electronic device designed for interactive entertainment.

Goldsmith’s original design, US Patent 2455992

The first playable games were created primarily to demonstrate a computer’s programming capabilities. Early games such as OXO (an electronic version of tic-tac-toe) and Tennis for Two, both developed in the 1950s, helped garner public interest in the advancement of computer technology, though neither were ever released publicly. The first game designed specifically for the computer was a PvP—player-versus-player—game known as Spacewar!. Computer programming students at MIT, eager to test their department’s brand-new $120,000 PDP-1 computer, designed a game inspired by science fiction novels where opposing players would attempt to blow up each other’s spacecrafts while fighting against unpredictable elements such as gravitational effects and a randomized “hyperspace” function. The spectacle was a huge success, but like OXO and Tennis for Two, it was never released to the public. It was, however, introduced to college campuses across the country, including the University of Utah, where it inspired student Nolan Bushnell to create a single-player, coin-operated version called Computer Space. While this game flopped, Bushnell’s career did the opposite—he went on to found Atari, which released Pong to the public in 1972.

Home video game systems followed soon after with Magnavox’s unsuccessful Odyssey console, which had extremely limited graphics capabilities and required players to tape images to their television screens (not unlike Thomas Goldsmith’s original 1947 concept!). Atari soon released an at-home version of Pong which proved extremely profitable, though Magnavox eventually filed a lawsuit for patent infringement which settled out of court. Soon, both the Fairchild Channel F (1976) and the Atari VCS (1977) offered removable game systems, allowing for multiple games to be played on the same device. Just as success began to wane, however, and the industry wondered if home gaming was destined for obsolescence, Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985, which single-handedly revitalized the home console industry, and video games have thrived ever since. The evidence is likely on your shelf—or in your hand.

File:Wikipedia NES PAL.jpg
We have the NES to thank for the success of today’s consoles.

Video games began as merely a tool to demonstrate the capabilities of computer programming and hardware. However, they have evolved into an industry of their own, not only exhibiting but inspiring new technological advancements in the field. As you spend this time on your couch picking fruit or fighting zombies, be thankful for those early programmers who paved the way; what they did with their free time is now filling yours.

EPC’s mobile repair department offers repair services on gaming consoles. Contact us for more info.

Why We Charge For Recycling

If you have a broken TV or monitor taking up space in your garage, you’re not alone. Many of us, for one reason or another, find ourselves burdened with these devices when they meet their end. You can’t sell them, and you can’t put them in the trash—you’ve read about the e-waste problem and don’t want to contribute to it. So, what do you do?

Hopefully, you decide to take it to an electronics recycling facility, where they can extract the raw materials and repurpose them. However, when you come to a place like EPC, you might be shocked to find that dropping off your TV or monitor comes with a price tag. Why? Most drop-off items free, so why this cost money? Doesn’t the recycling company make money from recycling? Shouldn’t they pay you?

Unfortunately, recycling electronic equipment isn’t that simple. While someone might be able to make a quick buck collecting old soda cans, processing e-scrap requires far more work, with little profit for the company.

When your CRT or LCD screen is processed, it must be manually de-manufactured to remove universal waste—toxic substances such as lead and mercury which must be processed separately. One 17” CRT monitor can contain around six pounds of lead. While these substances aren’t a danger to you or your family when the device is in use, improper disposal can lead to harmful chemicals leeching into the environment. Manual labor, running and maintaining recycling machinery, and outsourcing the de-manufacturing of certain devices such as LCDs and printers are costs that add up.

You may still be wondering why it’s worth it to pay for proper disposal. After all, aren’t there other recycling companies that still take these items for free?

It’s true, some electronics recycling facilities claim to offer “no-cost” services and will take your devices free of charge. However, these companies don’t always handle end-of-life assets properly. Recently, dozens of defendants were named in a lawsuit against recycling companies that contributed to a massive CRT glass stockpile in Columbus, OH. Cleanup costs have been estimated at $18.2 million dollars, and forty-one electronics recyclers may be held financially responsible.

Our recycling prices ensure that each item is processed correctly without putting ourselves, our customers, or the environment at risk. Don’t worry, most of the items we accept are still free to drop off. Here is a complete list of what we accept free of charge:

  • Servers
  • Desktop PCs
  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • Speaker Components and Accessories
  • Video and Photo Equipment
  • DVRs
  • Cable and Satellite Receivers
  • Digital and Film Cameras
  • Audio Equipment
  • Personal Printers
  • Scanners
  • Fax Machines
  • Gaming Consoles
  • Cell Phones and Batteries
  • Phones and Accessories
  • Small Electronic Appliances
  • All Cables and Power Cords
  • Small Household Electric Devices
  • Rechargeable Batteries

For devices with a drop-off fee, we have updated our prices as a result of the rising costs of recycling hazardous materials:

  • Screens up to 32″ and microwaves are $20 per item
  • Screens above 32″ are $40 per item

EPC has a limit of up to four items per drop-off and reserves the right to refuse any items at any time.

We hope this clears up questions you may have about our recycling practices, and that you continue to make the effort to recycle responsibly. If you have any questions, or you need to recycle in bulk, please call (636)443-1999 for more information.

Tokyo Turns E-Waste Into Gold

As the 2020 Summer Olympics draw near, Tokyo is preparing to host the games for the first time since 1964. The Japanese capital has a long road ahead as construction continues on the New National Stadium, and they prepare to welcome millions of visitors to the city. One of the many responsibilities of the Olympic host country is to provide winning athletes with their gold, silver and bronze medals. While the metals used to manufacture these in the past have come from a variety of sources, Japan has turned to an unconventional source: e-waste. 

Nearly ninety percent of Japanese municipalities have participated in collection programs that began in April of 2017. During this two-year campaign, those living in Japan have dropped off used cell phones and other small electronic devices at certain sites. These have been collected and dismantled for precious metals, which are extracted and refined to manufacture the five thousand medals required for the Olympic games. Nearly fifty thousand tons of small electronics have been collected across the country, including approximately 5.07 million used mobile phones. In February, the program met its goals of thirty kilograms of gold, 4100 kilograms of silver, and 2700 kilograms of copper (gold medals are made from silver and only plated in gold). The program will end on March 31st, 2019.

This is the first time the awards will be made entirely from recycled materials; but one must wonder, why hasn’t this been done before? Japan’s initiative sheds light on the potential “gold mine” that exists within the millions of tons of e-waste disposed of each year worldwide. Phones, laptops, gaming consoles, and other electronics containing precious metals in their circuitry sit in landfills like a vein waiting to be struck, yet few companies take advantage of this resource. While one phone may contain only trace amounts of gold, Japan has proven that those traces add up.

The Japanese public’s enthusiasm for the initiative is not only due to the environmental benefits. Many people have expressed feelings of pride over donating their phones. The metals that once sat in their pockets will hang from the necks of the best athletes in the world. This brings a sense of public inclusion previous Olympics have lacked. In some way, every medal awarded is a win for Japan, regardless of their rank in an event.

Tokyo’s Olympics are also promoting sustainability in other ways. Recently, Japan’s Olympic team announced that it will wear uniforms made from recycled athletic textiles. Many of Japan’s top athletes have donated their old clothes for this endeavor. Both campaigns will cut costs for an expensive Olympics with a price tag once estimated at $30 billion. 

EPC appreciates Japan’s efforts to create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly Olympic games. As a company dedicated to responsible e-waste reuse and recycling, we hope this sets a precedent and encourages other nations to find more innovative ways to utilize their old devices. Perhaps Beijing could create a similar campaign for the 2022 Winter Olympics, or Paris will step up in 2024. Maybe we, the USA, can follow Japan’s example when Los Angeles hosts in 2028 for the first time in forty-four years. But whether or not our current devices are future Olympic medals, we can start looking at e-waste differently much sooner than that.

For more information about Tokyo’s e-waste recycling program, visit the link below:

https://tokyo2020.org/en/games/medals/project/