Refurbishing electronics reduces e-waste, provides living wage jobs
The non-profit electronics recycler Tech Dump (now Repowered) just celebrated its 10th anniversary. With retail outlets now in St. Paul and Golden Valley, they provide an affordable, reliable source of refurbished computers across the metro. Their St. Paul location helps reduce e-waste by repurposing and recycling almost anything with a cord or battery – and they do all this while creating new job opportunities for people facing barriers to employment.
Work Readiness Training Program
Tech Dump Director of Advancement Emily Mauter said, “Each year, we provide tens of thousands of employment hours and over a million dollars in wages. Our goal for our two-stage, 18-month program is to address immediate stabilization needs for Work Readiness Employees (WREs). We offer training and paid employment, as WREs strive to become active creators of their own success.
“Our Work Readiness Program hires about 80 people every year. We estimate that 97% of participants have been incarcerated; and many have faced other challenges including homelessness, substance abuse, mental illness, and learning disabilities.
“Any one or more of these challenges make it difficult to get a job with most companies. The first phase of our training offers 500 hours of full-time employment, and is usually completed in three months. The program is focused on getting staff used to the work environment, maybe again, or maybe for the first time.
“Our WREs start out in the sorting area, where the electronics go after they’ve been dropped off. In addition to separating materials into their components and learning our work flow, WREs establish accountability through showing up on time, recording their hours properly, interacting positively with co-workers, responding well to guidance, and more.”
Supportive work environment
The second phase of the Work Readiness Program is for employees who demonstrate interest in a longer term commitment, and are interested in other positions at Tech Dump. This phase lasts an additional 15 months.
Mauter said, “There are a lot of jobs out there right now. We offer many supportive services in addition to a paycheck. Because every job is a tech job to some extent now, we offer sessions on foundational computer skills. If you’ve been out of the workplace for a while, this is critical.
“Our Work Readiness employees start at $13 an hour and can move up to $16 an hour. Our supportive work environment includes on-site access to mental health therapy with a licensed social worker, and coaches who can guide employees through work situations like how to tell their story in a job interview.
“We have a goal of hiring 60% of our Work Readiness graduates as permanent employees; 20% of our leadership team graduated from that training program. At Tech Dump, we want everyone to move on to a job that suits them, is open to their circumstances, and provides a living wage. We help our employees rebuild confidence while developing resume-worthy skills.”
Data security, environmental responsibility
Derek Olson is a network engineer who has worked at Tech Dump for nine years. He said, “It’s my job to identify what is valuable enough to be refurbished. When you recycle with Tech Dump, we guarantee all data is destroyed and your items will be responsibly refurbished or recycled. We are third-party audited according to strict industry standards.
“Tech Dump is an industry leader in electronics recycling, and one of the largest collectors of e-waste in the state of Minnesota.
“We are also a zero waste facility. We will not send your e-waste overseas. We repurpose and recycle as much as we can in our facility, and what we can’t use is sent to a downstream recycler who can.”
Why tech recycling matters
The 92,000-square-foot warehouse Olson oversees is packed to the rafters. He said, “It’s not apparent always to the eye, but a lot of environmental harm can be done by dealing with electronics irresponsibly. One example is the old style televisions that contain cathode ray tubes. Those are the ones that were common before flat screen TVs were invented.
“If one is left on the alley for solid waste pick-up, scrappers may break the screen in search of copper wire in and around the cathode ray tube. Once the glass is broken, lead dust is released into the air. TVs and monitors containing cathode ray tubes are expensive to recycle – you really have to care about the environmental harm they do. They contain lead in the glass and shielding components that make them unsafe and illegal to dispose of in a landfill. We have the capacity to deal with them responsibly.”
Used electronics can be dropped off at St. Paul site, located at 860 Vandalia Street. A second location is in Golden Valley at 825 Boone Avenue North #100.
Excluding appliances, you can drop off almost anything with a cable, cord, or battery to be recycled or refurbished at the St. Paul Tech Dump location. To learn more about how Tech Dump is reducing e-waste while providing living wage jobs for people in the community, visit www.getrepowered.org.
Laptops, notebooks, desktops, towers, servers, iPads, tablets, hard drives, routers, and modems are accepted at Tech Dump at no cost. There is a cost for recycling most other electronic; current cost estimates can be found on their website.