September 28, 2016   25 Elul 5776
Responsibly Recycling Electronic Waste
Mar. 10, 2011
Action night coordinated to secure public officials commitment to responsibly recycling electronic waste.

Community Contact Information:
Temple Emanu-el
San Jose, CA


  • To listen to the members of Temple Emanu-El and determine the issues which most concerned them (Note: Through these conversations, the environment emerged as the predeominant issue of concern)
  • To find a narrower environmental issue for the synagogue to focus on in a social action program (Note: After much research, the congregation chose to focus on responsibly recycling electronic waste, or e-waste)
  • To educate synagogue members, the greater community and policy makers to advocate for measures that responsibly recycle e-waste

Following a two-year congregational listening, planning and educational process, an action night was planned around responsibly recycling electronic waste (e-waste). The action night featured presentations to the community and government officials and concluded with synagogue members securing public commitments from policy makers to address the issue of e-waste.

Temple Emanu-el worked with a local grassroots interfaith social justice organization to implement a congregational listening program. Over one-third of synagogue members particiapted, and through this effort, it was determined that environmental concerns were a priority. The committee researched various environmental issues and chose to focus on advocating for responsible recycling of electronic waste (e-waste) because of the environmental, privacy and human rights concerns.

To learn more about this issue, the social action committee held research meetings with state and local advocacy organizations, county officials and policy analysts. Through these meetings, the committee learned of a recycler certification program that prohibits toxic waste from being disposed of in landfills and incinerators; does not allow the export of hazardous e-waste to developing countries; and has extensive health and safety requirements for workers in every country, including developed nations where toxic exposures routinely take place.

To act on this issue, the committee hosted an action night and community meeting to ask local and county governments to commit to working only with recyclers who have completed this certification program. The event was publicized through weekly emails, monthly newsletter articles, announcements during Friday night services and fliers around our buildings. The local community was invited through online event listings, fliers in local stores and press releases sent to local media including TV, print and radio.

Project Implementation: 
The action night was held on June 1, 2010 and began with a welcome from the rabbi and event chair. The cantor and choir sang, followed by an opening reflection from the rabbi and a local deacon. Next, the committee’s research report on the issue was presented, followed by a presentation from the executive director of a local nonprofit organization committed to promoting responsible recycling of e-waste. After one of the synagogue’s teens gave a testimony on her e-waste concerns, as a member of the generation that will have to deal with the consequences of inaction, the two government officials in attendance (the third official canceled at the last minute) were asked the following questions:

  1. Will you commit to a policy that the e-waste generated by the City of San José/ Santa Clara County be recycled only by those recyclers who have completed this certification program?  
  2. Will you commit to letting the public know, by posting on the city’s/ county’s websites that relate to electronic waste, which companies have completed or are in the process of completing this certification and what it means to be certified?
  3. Will you propose a policy that all e-waste recyclers who do recycling in the City of San José/ County of Santa Clara be those certified by this program or committed to the certification process? 

About 125 people attended the action night. The two government officials in attendance answered “yes” to all three questions and took immediate actions toward those commitments.

After the representative from the county board of supervisors answered “yes” to all three questions, the county established a new contract with a certified recycler to handle the county’s e-waste. The City of Seattle may soon follow in its footsteps, leading to what the congregation hopes will be a domino effect in which municipalities and governments all over the country will commit to responsibly recycling e-waste. 

Also, after a city councilmember answered “yes” to these questions at the action night, she presented a memorandum to the city’s Rules Committee, asking that all e-waste recycling sponsored by the city be done by a certified recycler; that all e-waste recyclers operating in the city become certified; that the city commit, to the best of its ability, to exclusively use certified recyclers and to allow for a reasonable grace period for e-waste recyclers to come into compliance for any new city certification requirements. The Rules Committee forwarded the recommendation to the Transporation and Environment Committee, which will consider the proposal in spring 2011.

Temple Emanu-el now takes its own e-waste to a certified recycler. Other Jewish organizations and community groups look to Temple Emanu-El’s social action committee as experts on this issue and have contacted committee members to ask about their own e-waste policies.

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