Free Geek. Recycle computer technology.

November 4, 2011 in Recycling

Electronic waste.  A vast topic, issue, disaster, pile of dangerous shit – whatever you want to call it – for one blog post.

But today we’ll focus on Free Geek, a non-profit organization based in Portland, Oregon with a two-fold mission: 1) recycle technology in a clean, safe, and responsible manner and 2) provide access to computers, the internet, education, and job skills in return for community service.

Correct me if I’m wrong – but unlike in Europe where the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) imposes the responsibility of the disposal of electronic waste on the manufacturer itself, the US has no federal law that enforces this sort of “Extended Producer Responsibility”.  Some states have their own laws dealing with e-waste like California which bans e-waste going to landfills or overseas.

But in any case, it’s messy.  And until we get some clean regulation on e-waste policy, it’s a good thing there are places like Free Geek.

Free Geek collects donated computers and “lovingly” refurbishes them into working machines running the Ubuntu Linux operating system.  They do this through their Build Program, which teaches volunteers how to build a computer, and in exchange for the volunteer’s hard work (he has to commit to building 5 computers), the volunteer gets the 6th computer he builds for himself!

The re-vamped computers then go to either the Adoption Program (to be explained), local non-profits, or Free Geek’s thrift store.

For the computers that can’t be refurbished, Freek Geek’s volunteers de-manufacture the machines and separate the components to be sent to local industrial recyclers.  Free Geek only works with companies that handle the materials in an environmentally responsible manner (no hazardous waste is sent overseas, no recyclable materials are sent to a landfill, ….), in line with standards laid out by the Basel Action Network (BAN).

These volunteers are part of the Adoption Program, and after 24 hours of volunteer service, they “adopt” one of the computers refurbished by the Build Program.

Free Geek financially operates primarily through their thrift store sales, but also with fundraising and donations.  In addition to Portland, some other cities have started their own Free Geek organizations, including Chicago, Providence, and Seattle.

I like it.  Bring people together.  Learn how to build a computer.  Recycle valuable components.  Be responsible.  Free Geek gets a big A+ in my book.

Do YOU remember what you did with your last computer?

I’m lucky since my brother-in-law has a “Mac Museum” and has taken all my old computers for his personal collection.

But for the future, if you don’t know what to do, check in with your town’s recycling center to figure out the best way to get rid of your computer in a safe and responsible way.  Cause there are some dangerous – as well as super valuable – components in that machine.