As our society becomes increasingly dependent on technology, what do we do with all of the obsolete computers, phones, and other electronics? In West Oakland, an innovative partnership between Civicorps Recycling and Tech Exchange is working to refurbish and recycle old electronics to reduce waste.

Oakland Tech Exchange’s Executive Director, Seth Hubbert, tells the story of a young mother of three who was trying to finish her college degree, but without access to a home computer, she had no option but to travel back and forth between public libraries with her children in tow in order to complete her homework online.

“An old laptop that a business might have otherwise thrown away meant everything for her once we refurbished it,” said Hubbert. “It meant more time with her children and the ability to focus on her education rather than navigating restraints.”

In partnership with Civicorps Recycling, Tech Exchange collects obsolete technology (also called E-waste) from local businesses and schools, and together, the two organizations sort through the E-waste. The technology that can be given new life is sent to the Tech Exchange, and the remainder is collected by Civicorps to be recycled.

According to Sustainable Electronics Recycling International, around 15 lbs of used electronics are generated per person e-waste_trainingworldwide, but less than 20% are recycled. This number is only expected to increase as the life cycle of electronic devices continues to shorten.

“Our supply is steadily increasing,” Hubbert said, “Back in the days of big clunky desktops it was 4 to 5 years before people would replace them, and now it is 1 to 3 years. We are seeing this shorter cycle as an opportunity to further reduce the digital divide and promote equity in communities that traditionally have little or no access to technology.”

As NPR reported in 2010, over 80% of used electronics end up in landfills in developing countries, where women and children often handle the highly toxic metals and substances inside the devices in order to extract precious metals for re-sale.

Civicorps Recycling is one of a few organizations that work with R2 certified recyclers – ensuring that components are separated in a way that is safe for the environment and the workers.

“The recyclers that we work with are primarily interested in re-use whenever possible, which further minimizes unnecessary waste,” said Civicorps Recycling’s E-waste Coordinator, Jim Madden. “The rest of the parts are carefully separated. The plastics are recycled and the other components are given new life in some other future electronic device.”

In addition to the environmental benefits of our partnership with Tech Exchange, there is also a training opportunity for youth. Civicorps is in the process of fine-tuning an internship program with the Tech Exchange to complement our IT certification programs, which will provide another career pathway for our students.

“Interns gain back-end hardware and IT skills, which open up a lot of opportunities. There is a lot of potential for these youth to get plugged into a nicely paying job,” Hubbert said.

You can support both Tech Exchange and Civicorps Recycling by signing up for a FREE e-waste pickup next time your business is upgrading its hardware. Call E-Waste Coordinator Jim Madden at (510) 992-7818 for more information or learn more about the items we accept on our website. Visit Tech Exchange to learn about volunteer opportunities.