Recycling–real recycling–not just the separation of newspapers from commingles, is complicated. Or maybe it’s simple depending on how you look at it. Out in the world, everything is recyclable one way or another. As humans we believe we can’t put our long-life light bulbs in the trash because of the mercury, but nature doesn’t care. Nature will definitely recycle that mercury. Sure the ducks may die and children be born mad, but that mercury’ll get reused one way or another. Count on it. Nature does not mind the materials.
Humans, however, endowed as they are with the mandate to make life as perfect as they can, feel a need to control the recycling process. As a card-carrying member of the human race, I accept the mandate. I dig it in fact. I love checking out new recycling methods and venues. Last year I became ecstatic when I discovered a place by my house that accepts Styrofoam for recycling. I’d been searching for about five years for somebody who would do that. I’m talking about really recycling, not just reusing peanuts in your Christmas mailings. I’m talking about someone that will accept the unreusable packing material that the new and horrendously bigger stereo, tv, or computer comes in. Finding someone to take that offal was a milestone.
The most diggable recycling project I’ve come across lately is FreeGeek.org headquartered in Portland, Oregon. It’s diggable for two reasons: first, recycling computers is what they do. Outdated tech is right up there with molded Styrofoam as being impossible to recycle. In my neighborhood, the closest complete computer recycler is a four-hour drive over the Appalachians to BumpFrick, PA. I’m talking about 100% recycling here, not the “Donate Your Computer to a Worthy Organization” type of recycling. I don’t know if you’ve tried doing this or not, but I have. The Worthy Organizations are looking for the latest in software and hardware, they do not want anything out of date. The only thing I have to donate is out of date. If it wasn’t out of date, I’d keep it. The things work fine, they just don’t work with the “new software,” i.e. the software I must have if I want to communicate with any other living soul on the planet, including people that don’t even have computers.
FreeGeek loves out of date hardware. They disassemble it, reuse what they can, and sell what they can’t to scrap metal businesses. They do not send their unwanteds to exploiters of third-world children that live in other countries. This group is on top of the everything PC, and I mean that both ways.
The second reason FreeGeek is diggable is that it provides training on computers to those in need (i.e. the third-world children in our own country). Training on the hardware end, the guts part of the thing. Students at FreeGeek don’t just learn how to run a software, that information is readily available elsewhere and cheap. FreeGeek gives hands on training in the hardware by teaching the students how to build a computer. What could be more valuable in this day and age? Sure what the world needs now is love, no question. But a few more people that aren’t afraid of computer frass would go a long way to providing world peace. Imagine inviting your neighbor’s kid to take apart your hard drive instead of having to lug it on up to Mount Pilot. Maybe you’d even learn to appreciate your neighbors if they or their kids had such valuable skills. And think of this, learning how to build a computer has to be the ultimate in reclaiming the means of production. Serious voodoo.
FreeGeek is non-profit, run by volunteers in a democratic fashion. No CEO and clutch of clutching vice presidents. I have no doubt that it’s a mess of inefficiency. I’ve heard that organizations operating outside the more successful hierarchical model of respectable companies like Goldman Sachs and GM are fraught with horrendous problems. But FreeGeek does run without grant money because they sell their refurbished computers in a thrift store. Apparently they’re self-sustaining. How silly of them to be merely self-sustaining as opposed to being so very highly profitable like the golden boys–Goldman Sachs and GM.
We’re getting off-topic here. It’s not really off-topic, but it’s too complicated to try and tie recycling, sustainability, profits, volunteer theory, upper management failures, and democracy into one post about a really terrific idea.
I have an attic full of monitors, scanners, modems, and printers. I also have a garage full of string trimmers, hand mowers, portable rototillers, and motorized hedge-trimmers. They all work sort of, but not well enough to get the job done efficiently. And they all cost more to get fixed than to buy new. Our lives are filled with the detritus of technology and cheap manufacturing. When are we going to clean up our act?
Sue Lange’s bookshelf at Book View Cafe