Sarah Sullivan (right) hands over a computer monitor to Shauna Mohr during the annual e-waste event at The Madeleine. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Sarah Sullivan (right) hands over a computer monitor to Shauna Mohr during the annual e-waste event at The Madeleine. (Katie Scott/Catholic Sentinel)
Most spring cleaners have at some point looked down at a hodgepodge of defunct electronics — old cellphones and laptops, severed cords, and broken chargers — and wondered what to do with it all.

For almost two decades, The Madeleine Parish has offered a solution that gets rid of such stashes while helping Mother Earth.

Each year near Earth Day the Northeast Portland parish collects and recycles e-waste for the surrounding community. The event, held this year on April 18, aligns with core concerns of the parish — creation and the poor.

Computers and most electronics contain toxic materials such as lead, zinc, nickel and flame retardants. When they end up in landfills, the toxic materials seep into groundwater, affecting land and sea animals. The waste can affect the health of people in developing countries, where most electronic waste is dumped. And if e-waste is burned it releases chemicals into the air, contributing to climate change.

The good news is that electronics have many recyclable elements.

Shauna Mohr is a Madeleine parishioner long involved with the annual e-waste effort at her parish.

“The people who are most affected by climate change are the most vulnerable,” she said.

The preferential option for the poor “is at the heart of Catholic social teaching,” Mohr added, and it motivates the recycling effort and other parish-based initiatives.

Father Mike Biewend, pastor of The Madeleine, regularly encourages parishioners to focus on “Laudato Si,’” Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical on the environment and caring for the planet.

“Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue,” the pope writes in the encyclical. “It is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”

On the sunny April Sunday at The Madeleine, cars drove up every few minutes, and Mohr and a handful of fellow parishioners collected and sorted electronics and placed them into large cardboard boxes. Later that afternoon Portland-based Green Century Recycling took the electronics to its recycling facility.

This year’s recycling event was scaled back some due to the pandemic. For example, no Styrofoam, batteries or florescent lights were collected, though the parish hopes to hold another collection for such items in the fall.

When the event began in the early 2000s, there weren’t many local options for recycling the ever-increasing number of electronics. The parish effort has grown over the years, and in 2017 volunteers collected nearly 8,250 pounds of e-waste.

The Madeleine accepts donations during drop-offs and uses funds for sustainability projects. Past projects include a water bottle refill station at the school, to minimize plastic use, and flowers for the parish grounds.

Since 2019 The Madeleine also has offered a year-round recycling program for items not generally handled by curbside recycling.

Both the annual event and ongoing effort are supported by The Madeleine’s Care for Creation Ministry and its Laudato Si’ Circles, small groups that meet to deepen their relationship with God and all members of creation.

Learn more

For more on the recycling efforts at The Madeleine, go to themadeleine.edu/site/