TEMPERANCE - Like a modern-day Rumpelstiltskin, Lesley Quinlan believes she can turn the boxes full of plastic in her office into enough gold to buy new gadgets and other needed niceties for her students.
And if her young students at Temperance Road Elementary happen to learn the value of recycling in the process, then, she says, so much the better.
Mrs. Quinlan, the school's media technology specialist, has been depositing used inkjet and laser printer cartridges in a large box in her office for the last several years, and now adds certain old cell phones to her collection.
The deposits come from students' homes and their parents' places of business, and even from around the school itself.
“We're very fortunate in Bedford in that we have a lot of technology,” Mrs. Quinlan said.
Every classroom in the district has at least one if not several computer workstations and nearly all of those computers have printers hooked up to them. Those printers spit out thousands of documents a year, and burn up hundreds of ink and laser cartridges in the process.
In most homes or small businesses that use these setups, those cartridges might find their way to a recycler if the user is conscientious enough to mail it in on their own. But by collecting what is otherwise technological garbage most likely destined for the landfill and sending it en masse, Temperance Road earns cash and prizes, Mrs. Quinlan explained.
“Last year, we were going to get headphones for the lab, but we ended up waiting and collecting more,” Mrs. Quinlan said.
When the box in Mrs. Quinlan's office fills up, she ships it off postage paid to FundingFactory.com, an Erie, Penn.-based for-profit company that, in turn, sends her a check.
Allison Felix, program coordinator at FundingFactory.com, said her company has nearly doubled its number of participating schools nationwide in the last 12 months, from about 2,700 in December, 2001, to 6,300 a year later.
Overall, the company has more than 21,000 participating businesses and organizations nationwide that send in their used cartridges and donate the points to an area school or non-profit agency. The boxes and postage to send them in are all prepaid, so there is no cost to the schools, Ms. Felix said.
“We assign a point value to each cartridge that they send in that qualifies,” Ms. Felix said. “Some schools can spend a year or two filling up one box and others with a lot of businesses supporting them can fill up a box or two a month.”
The points can be put toward purchasing items such as playground equipment or computers, or converted to cash. The company pays an equivalent of 40 cents to as much as $12 for each cartridge or cell phone, Ms. Felix said.
The company sells the bulk empties to businesses that refill and re-sell them at a cost normally far less than new ones, and the profits are split with the non-profit or academic partners. “It costs them nothing to do this, so it's really great for them,” Ms. Felix said.
Since it began the recycling program five years ago, Mrs. Quinlan estimated that the school has received hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in equipment and supplies.
The real value, shesaid, is the lesson about the importance of recycling and preserving the planet's resources.