That old computer still has a second life

Sarker Hope Foundation teams up with ERA to collect old technology

The Electronic Recycling Association is active in seven Canadian cities and can be contacted to arrange a donation pick-up. Photo: The Electronic Recycling Association

Many have that drawer: a technology graveyard filled with cracked phones, old computers and chargers thats’ use has long been forgotten. While many people bring this forgotten tech to be recycled, others hang on to them indefinitely, waiting for a far-off occasion when it may be of use again.

But other options also exist for the tech clutter we accumulate over the years, solutions that could even help people in need. The Electronic Recycling Association (ERA) is a Canadian not-for-profit company that collects old technology like phones and computers to be refurbished and subsequently donated to charities. 

While many people think that their old technology quickly becomes obsolescent, there are often many years of life left in old computers and cracked phones that could still be useful to others. 

This year, local charity the Sarker Hope Foundation is asking the ERA for help in collecting laptops and tech to be redistributed to in-need Park Extension residents who may not have equitable access to technology. 

“Our aim is that we reduce the negative impact that E-waste has on the environment and we do this through the recovery and the refurbishment of unwanted electronics and equipment,”

Another solution to E-waste

A 2016 report from the University of British Columbia found that Canadians generate about 725,000 tonnes of electronic waste every year, with only 20% of it being recycled properly. While the number of locations for disposing of electronic waste properly has grown in the past years, many say recycling old tech shouldn’t be the only option.

“Our aim is that we reduce the negative impact that E-waste has on the environment and we do this through the recovery and the refurbishment of unwanted electronics and equipment,”  said Julia Armstrong, spokesperson for the Electronic Recycling Association, a non-profit organization founded in 2004 to address the growing problem of e-waste and the increasing digital divide.

Instead of simply recycling electronics and selling the broken-down or melted byproducts, the ERA collects old tech, refurbishes and repairs it and subsequently donates it to charities or sells it at a fraction of the price. 

“It’s great when you take your stuff to the recycler, but when it’s something that still has life in it, it can be given to someone who can’t afford that equipment and that device,” explained Armstrong, pointing to the benefit of reusing gadgets that although not new, at least still work. 

So far the organization has donated hundreds of second-hand electronics to charities across the country. Although they are happy to take donations from individuals, they most often work with businesses to refurbish and donate large quantities of used technology from businesses and offices. 

Blatant need in Park Extension

In a recent call for donations by the ERA, the Sarker Hope Foundation is cited as needing 50 laptop computers and 10 desktop computers for community charity initiatives. The organization has previously worked in the area and recently donated new tablets to local students.

“The children of Park Ex and Montreal greatly benefited from donated tablets, because without them they would not be equipped with the proper tools to study with, seeing as many of their parents cannot afford to buy them one,” said Vanessa Viel, a volunteer at the Sarker Hope Foundation. 

The local charity reached out for help from the ERA at the start of their “tablet distribution program” last year. “There is still a demand for tablets from low-income families in Park Extension and still we are providing a very small scale distribution by individual donors support,” continued Viel. 

Cassie Kupfer hosted an e-waste collection event on Jul. 21 at the École Tuxedo Park in Winnipeg. Photo: The Electronic Recycling Association

An online shift

As the pandemic has shown, technology is now vital in so many aspects of life, from work to school to staying in touch. “I think the pandemic has really highlighted this fact even more, that they are essential and not a luxury,” said Armstrong.

“You search for jobs and apply for jobs online and if you have a job a lot of people are working from home so you need a computer. Schools have shifted to online learning with this pandemic,” continued Armstrong. 

That fact is especially true for low-income people or newly arrived Canadians, who often don’t have as easy access to technology. “We get a lot of requests from newcomers and refugees,” explained Armstrong. 

“They need that technology to learn, to help them with their English classes, to help them look for jobs, and to help them stay in touch with their friends and their family that are thousands of miles away.” 

Call for donations

At the moment, the organization is especially looking for second-hand laptops as they are what is most in demand. The ERA will accept any kind of IT-related item for refurbishment and donation including cellphones, desktop computers, cameras, cords, cables, printers and projectors.

People who are interested in donating old technology, whatever it may be, are encouraged to reach out to the ERA. “We’re located in seven cities all across Canada, you can either come by and drop it off at our depot, or you can call us and arrange a pickup to do that,” said Armstrong.

Although demand has grown immensely in the past two years, due in part to telework and online schooling, the ERA expects it will be able to honour its commitments to the Sarker Hope Foundations. “What I can do now for them is these ten desktop computers, I’m going to put this on our next donation batch,” concluded Armstrong.