This time on Geeks Give Back, I want to introduce you to Free Geek. Geeks are often on the leading edge when it comes to owning the next best piece of electronic equipment — be it computer, game, or phone. I myself have found myself moving on to a new computer while hardly giving a backwards glance to the one I just discarded. Until recently it hadn’t occurred to me that something I now see as useless could potentially be very useful to someone else. That’s when I found Free Geek.
Free Geek takes in used computers, computer parts, peripherals, and accessories for computers, trains people how to fix them up, and then sells them back to the community at rock-bottom prices so that people who may not have been able to afford a computer can. Perhaps the next time you out grow a laptop or desktop, or even if one breaks, you will think about donating to the people at Free Geek. Even if the computer is in some way broken, they can use parts from your and other computers to make working hybrids that someone will get use out of. Below is my interview with Alison Briggs about Free Geek. I hope you will consider donating your old computers to such a great cause!
Kelly Melcher: How did Free Geek get started?
Alison Briggs: The technology revolution benefits many, but it also creates two serious problems. First, computers manufactured today have a very short life cycle. Large numbers of computers are deemed obsolete within two years and discarded. Traditional methods of disposal of computer equipment have resulted in releasing dangerous toxins such as lead, chromium, and mercury into the environment. Reuse and responsible recycling is the best process for the environment, capable of recovering over 99% of the materials for reuse. Without recycling, this discarded technology of ten ends up in landfills where the resulting accumulation of toxic/hazardous waste will create potentially disastrous results for the environment.
The second problem stemming from advances in computer technology is that many people lack even the most basic computer skills. This can deny them access to everything from getting on the Internet to getting a better job. As these technological advances have continued to accelerate, more people are being left behind without access to computers and ability to use them.
Free Geek was founded in 2000 to use these problems to solve each other. A significant portion of computers bound for the landfills can be refurbished into working starter computers for those who cannot otherwise afford them. Individuals with little or no disposable income can be trained to help process the diverted computers for reuse or recycling, receiving one of the refurbished computers in exchange for their efforts. The result is less computer equipment in the landfills and more equipment being reused. In addition, a wide range of people get access to computers and the Internet that previously could not; a win/win situation for everyone involved, which is summed up in the Free Geek Mission Statement: “Free Geek recycles used technology to provide computers, education, job skills training and access to the Internet to those in need, in exchange for community service.”
KM: Who is helped by Free Geek?
Whether an individual wishes to contribute only 24 hours of volunteer time to earn a free computer or elects to make a longer commitment and learns to build their own computer, nearly anyone who wants to volunteer time at Free Geek and can make it to our facility is welcome. No computer experience is required. Our facility is mostly handicapped-accessible, and we are sensitive to and can work with people with different abilities. More info about our volunteer programs is available on our website.
Thrift Store Customers:
Surplus equipment and other gizmos that have some retail value but do not meet other program requirements are sold through the Free Geek Thrift Store. Monitors, printers, laptops, keyboards, cables, and gizmos galore are among the many items available in the store, all available for inconceivably low prices. This ensures that working, usable equipment gets back into circulation, and that the community has access to quality gizmos for low prices.
Hardware Grant Recipients:
In order to support the geeky needs of our community, Free Geek grants computers and other hardware to not-for-profit organizations in the Portland area through our Hardware Grants program.
KM: What do you hope to accomplish with Free Geek?
AB: The past nine years have proven that Free Geek plays a vital role in the community by diverting hazardous e-waste from the landfill and providing community members with computers and education. We will strive to further our mission and continue to promote reuse.
KM: For people in the Portland area, how can they contribute or participate in Free Geek?
AB: Portland area folks can help Free Geek by:
- volunteering their time,
- donating their hardware,
- patronizing the Free Geek Thrift Store,
- making a tax-deductible donation,
- signing up for our e-newsletter via our website, and
- talking us up to their friends.
KM: How can people from other parts of the world contribute or participate?
AB: Although tax-deductible donations are always appreciated, folks outside of Portland, Oregon can also look to see if a Free Geek-like organization exists nearby and then get involved with that organization. Additionally, even if folks can’t come to Free Geek to learn about computers, one of the best self-educational things they can do is to open up a disused computer and peek around inside. It’s a lot easier to be comfortable with computers when you understand that they’re mostly air inside.
KM: What electronics do you accept as a donation, and what items don’t you accept?
AB: Free Geek accepts nearly everything that plugs into a computer or an electrical outlet and thus, the list of what we don’t accept is much shorter than what we do. We accept most electronics, except for office-style copiers and household items like refrigerators, microwaves, smoke detectors, fluorescent light bulbs, and batteries.
KM: If people take one message away from Free Geek, what do you want it to be?
AB: Try to keep reusing your current computer, instead of purchasing a new one.