Why is Computer Recycling Important?
Computers contain dangerous toxins and carcinogens that leach into the environment if not treated properly. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies computers as “hazardous household waste”. Indeed, the materials used in computers are cause for serious public health and environmental concerns, especially considering the volume of computers that we dispose of.
Rapid technological advancement and planned obsolescence are creating an ever-increasing surplus of electronic waste. Currently, only about 15% of computers are recycled, with the rest being dumped in landfills or incinerated, releasing toxic materials like lead, cadmium and mercury into the environment.
Computer Recycling Programs Portland
Fortunately, there are recycling programs springing up to deal with these hazardous components appropriately. In fact, recycling computers properly can yield valuable raw materials that can be reused. Not only can they be salvaged for these materials, some may also be suitable for refurbishment and reuse—an even better strategy for minimizing the environmental impact of our technological needs.
Some electronics companies, like Best Buy, Staples and Office Depot, offer computer recycling services typically for a small fee. Best Buy takes up to two electronics items per day per consumer, most of which they recycle for free, while Office Depot sells “Tech Recycling Boxes” of varying sizes for a nominal fee that can be filled with electronics and left at the store for recycling.
Free Geek: A Local, Non-Profit Electronics Recycling Program
In Portland, we are lucky to have Free Geek—a free, nonprofit computer recycle and reuse organization. Free Geek’s mission is “to recycle technology and provide access to computers, the internet, education and job skills in exchange for community service.” The organization refurbishes reusable computers and recycles obsolete or broken technology. Whatever they’re able to refurbish is then given to volunteers in exchange for their services, donated to non-profits or sold in their thrift store at extremely low prices.
Free Geek’s recycling process is to break down computers into their basic parts and then distribute them to specialized recyclers, such as Total Reclaim in Seattle, which deals with monitors and terminals, or Metro Metals in Portland, which buys many of the materials used in computers. In 2009, Free Geek responsibly recycled 711 tons out of the 950 tons of electronic waste that came in. Reuse is, however, Free Geek’s stated focus. That same year, they distributed 1,329 computers to local nonprofits and 1,086 to volunteers.
Free Geek is admirable not only for their advocacy of reuse and recycling, but also for their dedication to the community. Day to day operations are conducted by a team of volunteers who can earn computers in exchange for their labor while learning valuable technological skills in the process. At the time of writing, they currently boast a roster of more than 600 active volunteers. Classes are also offered based on popular demand to both volunteers and members of the community.
Free Geek is located at 1731 SE 10th Avenue, Portland, OR. They are open from Tuesday through Saturday, 11am to 7pm.