ComputerCorps keeps e-waste out of landfills
Ron Norton makes his way through ComputerCorps’ east Carson City warehouse where mounds of unused computer towers and monitors are piled on top of row after row of pallets.
The operation has grown since Norton, a volunteer and president of ComputerCorps, helped found the non-profit organization in 1998. Now there are plans to expand into Reno and Las Vegas, he said, walking by a large box filled to the brim with printers.
Since ComputerCorps was founded, more than 5,000 people have volunteered more than 500,000 hours, working to keep more than 4.2 million unused and donated computer items (and the toxic metals inside of them) out of landfills.
More importantly, Norton said, about 13,000 computer systems have been refurbished and put back to work, many going to low-income households.
“Why grind it up? Why not create an asset out of it and give it to a kid from a low-income family?” Norton said.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about 40 million computers become obsolete each year, adding to the 1.84 million tons of electronic devices, including televisions and cell phones, that were sent to landfills in 2007. About 18 percent of computer products are recycled and the rest trashed.
So the volunteers at ComputerCorps help restore unused computers. The organization also does its share of training, such as a summer camp classes for children on how to use computers.
The ComputerCorps warehouse is like a museum, complete with Apple Macintosh computers from the 1980s and Atari gaming systems.
On most days a couple dozen people are volunteering their time. One volunteer cooks lunch for the rest. Many are with a vocational rehabilitation program, working toward finding a permanent job, while others volunteer through an AARP program.
When they receive computers in their east Carson City warehouse – many coming from businesses or state, county and city governments – they strip the devices of any sensitive data and useful parts.
They get about 1,000 to 2,000 computers a month, on top of other electronic devices. They still do not accept televisions, which are too difficult to store or repair, Norton said.
Once a computer is accepted, the hard drives are locked away until the memory is “scrubbed” clean. Otherwise they are destroyed.
“Sometimes we drill holes, sometimes we grind them up, usually we … (use) a heavy magnet that wipes everything else off,” Norton said.
But if the hard drive is reused, Norton said operations manager Scott Riddering uses a specialized program designed to erase everything ever put on the hard drive.
“The minute they’re brought in the door, they’re locked down,” Riddering said.
Norton said those parts will eventually become part of refurbished computer systems that will hopefully make their way to the hands of a child.
“(There’s a) need for a kid to have a computer, to be computer literate, not just using a computer on the outside, but understanding the inner workings of a computer,” he said.
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