What started as a research paper for English 101 has turned into a full-fledged fundraising effort by HCC's Sociology-Anthropology Club.
The club is collecting old cell phones to raise money for a scholarship endowment that will one day benefit HCC students while at the same time raising environmental awareness about the hazards of disposing of electronic devices in landfills.
"Most people have several old cell phones just lying around, collecting dust," said Jeffrey Anderson, of Holyoke, president of the Sociology-Anthropology Club. "We're collecting cell phones in any condition, working, not working, broken."
Green collection boxes have been set up at several points around campus, including the Student Activities office in Donahue 101 and the Welcome Center in Frost 224.
The donated phones are sent to a company called GRC Wireless Recycling, which pays the club between $3 and $30 for each one, depending on the condition and type of phone. Working phones are refurbished and resold. Broken phones are stripped down so the precious metals inside, such as gold and silver, can be reused.
"On average," Anderson said, "200 cell phones contain enough gold to make a gold ring."
Last spring, Anderson heard a radio report on cell phone recycling that piqued his interest. He started researching the subject and turned it into a paper for his English 101 class. "Statistics show that 90 percent of electronics waste goes into landfills," Anderson said, "and only 10 percent is being recycled in a responsible manner. When that stuff goes into a landfill the toxins can seep into groundwater - mercury, lead - the kind of things we don't want in our drinking water."
Anderson said the demand for precious metals required to manufacture cell phones also creates a "blood diamond" effect, with corporations exploiting the local people who work in the mines. "If cell phones can be reused, it helps," he said.
The main goal of the cell phone campaign, however, is to raise money to endow a scholarship through the HCC Foundation. Anderson, 33, a liberal arts major, is himself the recipient of a scholarship through the foundation, and he knows first-hand how important those awards are in helping HCC students afford college.
While the criteria for the scholarship have not been set, Anderson anticipates that the recipient will be an HCC student involved in community and civic activities, especially environmental causes. The club's plan is to work through the HCC Alumni Association to name the scholarship after an HCC alum involved in environmental and green causes.
Anderson knows it will be a long haul. It takes a minimum of $15,000 to start an endowment that will pay out an annual scholarship.
"Cell phones aren't going away," he said, "so we'll keep plugging away until we reach that number."
Photos: (Left) Sociology-Anthropology Club president Jeffrey Anderson deposits a donated cell phone into a collection box. (Right) The club is accepting donations of any kind of cell phone, in any condition.