TechSoup Global Goes to Congress (Again)
This piece was originally posted here recently on TechSoup.org. I thought my fellow Netsquarians might like to hear a bit about TechSoup's work advocating for charities and libraries in the hallowed halls of the U.S. Congress. I got the chance to do that. I created a catch phrase that I hope will capture some hearts and minds of policymakers. I call it "humanitarian electronics recycling and refurbishment." Perhaps I should explain.
TechSoup Global's mission is to do whatever we can to provide the IT resources and knowledge that charities, NGOs, and libraries need to operate at their full potential. Our product donations are well-known, as are our articles, blog posts and community organizing.
We engage any and all high-tech companies that may be interested in donating or discounting their software, hardware, tech support, or cloud services. And when we get the chance we also advocate for charities and libraries in other high places – like the U.S. Congress.
Our latest opportunity was on February 13 2013. I got the chance to present on a panel with three other people in an information session hosted by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. The briefing was called "Turning E-Waste into Green." It was all about how policy decisions on handling e-waste could improve the economy via environmental stewardship. The event was organized by the American Chemical Society (ACS) and hosted by Congressional members: Randy Hultgren (Illinois), Chaka Fattah (Pennsylvania), Ben Ray Lujan (New Mexico), and Alan Nunnelee (Mississippi).
TechSoup Global's Jim Lynch presenting to a briefing of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
What Does E-Waste Legislation Have to Do with Charitable Donations?
For the past 12 years TechSoup Global has been doing work on multiple levels in the area of electronics recycling and refurbishment to do whatever we can to increase the flow of good low-cost refurbished and new IT equipment to charities and libraries.
- We operate our Refurbished Computer Initiative, which provides reliable, warrantied desktop and laptop computers to U.S. nonprofits and libraries. Several of our global partners operate similar programs.
- We co-founded and organized the International Computer Refurbishers Summit for many years.
- We administrate the Refurbisher Listserv in which 400 computer refurbishers exchange information, talk shop, ask technical questions, and debate issues.
- We have participated in a U.S. EPA sponsored process to create U.S. electronics recycling and refurbishment standards. This work led to the R2 and E-Stewards certifications programs.
- We publish resources like the refurbishment program start-up manuals and direct people who need good refurbished equipment to the Microsoft Registered Refurbisher Program listing of refurbishers worldwide.
- And we have done what we can to inform policy makers on how to best reclaim the vast amount of IT equipment discarded each year.
One of the things hobbling this reclamation is that the U.S. does not have a coherent nationwide electronics recycling system that can effectively capture good useable IT equipment that is being discarded. We're also not doing a great job capturing truly used up IT discards that can be used to harvest parts and raw materials like plastics, metals, and glass.
My co-presenter, George Hinkle, from Arcoa Recycling reported that there are 60 substances to reclaim from IT devices. IT discards that find their way in to landfills have toxics in them that poison our environment. According to Dr. Eric Williams of Rochester Technical Institute, only 15 percent of discarded computers in the U.S. are reused.
What Policy Makers Want and What I Advocate
What policy makers want most these days are ways to create U.S. jobs. A better-organized nationwide electronics recycling system will likely serve that end as well. The Coalition For American Electronics Recycling has produced a study that finds that Federal electronics recycling legislation could create as many as 42,000 direct and indirect new jobs.
What I am also hoping for is that such a recycling system would include a defined flow of material that is inspected and designated for reuse and refurbishment. Such a system can use incentives for this recovered resource to be refurbished and provided at low-cost to schools, charities, libraries, and low-income families both in the US and internationally. The Illinois Electronic Waste Recycling Act has successfully created and proven this recycling model. I'd love to see this policy adopted in every country.
I think there's a chance to get such "humanitarian electronics recycling and refurbishment" under serious consideration. We can improve the environment, create jobs, and provide a substantial social good. Why not?
Find a 17 minute video of the presentations, and PDFs of each presentation as well here, courtesy of the American Chemical Society.
Image: American Chemical Society