Oregon DEQ 2000

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Brief Description

Part of application form/cover sheet, basic conatact info. not shown for simplicity.

FREE GEEK is a 501(c)3 non-profit community organization that diverts the flow of older and obsolete computers from the landfills, sorts through all donated equipment and determines its best future use. All reusable equipment is refurbished with volunteer help. All unusable equipment is recycled via a partnership with an industrial recycling operation that processes the metals, glass and plastics. To maximize the flow of donations and to make it as easy as possible for people and businesses in the community to donate, FREE GEEK accepts the donation of all computers and related peripherals.

Since September 1, 2000, FREE GEEK has operated a 5000 S.F. facility located in inner SE Portland, known as the Community Technology Center. Computers can be donated Monday through Saturday. This space provides a location for members of the community to help with the refurbishing of computers.

Entering one side of the building, donated computers are received and catalogued into an inventory database. After an initial evaluation in Receiving, the equipment is sent on to Testing or sent to the recycling bins. Tested computers that pass are sent to Repair for minor upgrades or on to Cloning where the operating system and applications software are loaded. Individual components are stocked and available for the repair of incoming systems. All operations have been semi-automated, and following basic instructions, volunteers with minimal knowledge of computers can participate and learn, all while earning service hours. The refurbished computers are made available for "adoption" to volunteers in exchange for their service hours.

On the other side of the space, FREE GEEK operates a 12-workstation classroom to teach the recipients of the computer systems how to use them productively. This space is available for volunteers to organize classes on a variety of computer subjects. Along with computer systems and upgrades, all these FREE GEEK services are available to volunteers in exchange for volunteer hours. Computer systems are valued at an average of 12 service hours. Classes will be offered at 1 hour of class for 2 hours of volunteer service. Internet access will be valued at 2 hours of access for 1 hour of service.

To date FREE GEEK has taken in the donation of over 100 individual computers and some 750 computer components and peripheral devices,with 25% of computers going to infrastructure, recycling 22% and the remaining 53% being tested and cataloged for refurbishing. Since September, 134 members of the local community have joined the program, volunteering time to refurbish and recycle computers, as well as to share knowledge about computers.

Grant Application Narrative

Questions are part of application form

1. What community or environmental need does the project respond to, how was the need determined, and how will your project contribute to solving the need?

When computers are dumped in landfills, they can leak many different toxic chemicals into the soil. Lead radiation shielding from monitors, chromium, cadmium and mercury from the printed circuit boards, and the flame-retardant industrial plastics that comprise the cases are toxic and hazardous to the environment.

In 1999, the National Safety council in its report Electronic Product Recovery and Recycling Baseline Report: Recycling of Selected Electronic Products in the United States, found that in 1998, more than 20 million computers were considered obsolete and only 11% were recycled or reused. At the current rate, by the year 2005, 350 million machines will have reached obsolescence, with at least 55 million ending up in landfills. It estimated that three quarters of all computers ever purchased in the U.S. are sitting in basements and closets, collecting dust. Fortunately, computers and peripheral devices that are considered obsolete can be refurbished into working systems running smaller, more efficient operating systems or recycled into post consumer products.

The City of Portland determined that no facility or infrastructure for electronics recycling existed within the city prior to the establishment of the FREE GEEK project. FREE GEEK fills the need at a minimal cost, while promoting community awareness and encouraging community involvement.

FREE GEEK Incorporates a screening process that ensures the maximum life-cycle for working equipment, and an environmentally safe recycling process for all non-functioning or obsolete equipment. Refurbished equipment is put back into circulation, reducing the pressure on the market that generates new computers, and helping to establish equal communication access to those in need in the local community. FREE GEEK achieves 100% re-use or recycling with all technology that they process.

2. Were other participants involved in the identification of the project need and development of the grant proposal? If so, briefly describe the process and identify the participants.

While volunteering as the webmaster and a media coordinator for the Earth Day 2000 Celebration, Oso (Peter Martin) first observed a problem in the local activist community: while email is one of the best tools available for activists to share information and resources, many community activists can not afford a computer or internet access. Further investigation into where older functional computers could be obtained, led to the discovery that large amounts of older, working computers were being thrown into landfills, wasting resources and creating an environmental hazard. A comprehensive program was then envisioned, that would incorporate the diversion of computers from the waste stream, finding the best future use for the salvageable equipment and finding a way to recycle the rest.

Eban Goodstein, Executive Director of the Green House Network, took an interest in the project and provided the encouragement for Oso to formally organize the project. Oso then obtained the domain name www.freegeek.org and posted information about the idea online. Eban then introduced Oso to Anne Castleton, a speech professor at Portland State University, who in turn introduced him to James Deibele, the former CEO and founder of Teleport, a local internet service provider. Jim was looking for a charitable project in which to invest some capital, to see what could developed to increase access to computers and the internet. The organization was incorporated on April 13, 2000. Jim then funded an organizational grant of $5,000.00. Under Anne's guidance, a series of four organizational workshops were held to brainstorm the details of how such a project could be sustained. Potential board members were sought out from the local high tech and non-profit community and invited to attend. All of the current members of the Board attended the first meeting. Along with Anne Castleton, Cynthia Gaboury, M.D. also participated; both joined the original board, but both have since resigned to pursue important career opportunities outside of Oregon. The workshops refined the mission statement, and established the basic operational parameters and first phase goals, which included obtaining 501(c)3 tax-exempt status. The board was elected, the bylaws adopted and Oso was hired as the Executive Director on June 13th, 2000. Jim then provided an additional $30,000.00 in funding for a start-up project to test the assumptions over a 4-5 month period. A space was located that fit the needs of the project and FREE GEEK moved into their current space on August 15th.

Since then, FREE GEEK has remodeled the space, designed and implemented a network infrastructure and inventory database. Donated computers are being accepted, processed and refurbished or recycled. A preliminary finding for 501(c)3 tax exempt status was granted to FREE GEEK by the IRS on November 14th. Dozens of volunteers have signed up to participate since the official FREE GEEK Grand opening took place on November 18th. Shortly after FREE GEEK moved into their new facility, Richard Schmidt with the City of Portland's Office of Sustainable Development, contacted them to see what resources could be brought together to support the project.

3. How will you measure the success of the project? What evaluation steps do you plan to take?

Every piece of equipment donated to FREE GEEK is recorded into a inventory database that tracks its status through out the process, from receiving through recycling or "adoption" by a volunteer. This allows FREE GEEK to physically count the number of computers donated, recycled, re-used and returned into the system. The database also tracks volunteer service hours donated or traded in exchange for services. The data base is designed to allow any multitude of reports that can track a variety of statistics daily, monthly or yearly. Quantum Resource Recovery recycles all of the unusable product, and will furnish FREE GEEK with monthly reports on all material processed. Web traffic indicators on the FREE GEEK web site shows the number of visitors, by the hour, day, week, month or year. Since September, daily unique visitors to the website have increased by almost 700%. Web traffic is a good indicator of media exposure and the success of other outreach projects.

4. Describe future plans for your project. How will activities continue, or how will you build on the success of the project, after the grant funds are expended? Identify future funding sources.

The FREE GEEK Community Technology Center is a place for the Portland community to volunteer and work together to help the environment and help those in need to get access to computers and the internet. FREE GEEK operates a classroom space, equipped with 12 workstations, that allows volunteers to organize and conduct various computer classes and job training workshops. Future plans include expanding into a full fledged education center. The class schedule is to include advanced computer classes and job skills training courses. FREE GEEK will also be remodeling an additional 300 S.F. of store front space into a high speed internet and productivity center, with 8 computer workstations networked with web access on a donated Digital Subscriber Line. FREE GEEK will also provide a scanner and laser printer and other digital media tools as they become available. These additional programs will keep a steady flow of volunteers returning to the program and sharing what they have learned with other participants.

On-going fundraising consists of the acceptance of a voluntary $5.00 donation with each piece of obsolete equipment. Projections estimate FREE GEEK will take in approximately $25,000 per year at the current rate of donation. Future funding will be sought from additional grants providers. Other sources of income are: fund-raising events, sales of FREE GEEK merchandise (t-shirts, stickers and packaged coffee), direct corporate sponsorship and on-line donations through the FREE GEEK website.

5. Briefly Describe how the project will be integrated into other waste management programs in place.

FREE GEEK will participate with the City of Portland, Metro and Quantum Resource Recovery to hold special computer and appliance drop-off events. Using the adjacent parking lot, a drive thru drop-off and additional containers for recycling will be set-up for all day events on selected Saturdays through out the year. FREE GEEK is already listed with Metro and the city of Vancouver, WA as a location for computer recycling in the Portland Metropolitan area.

6. Describe how your project will use volunteer labor, in-kind services, existing education and promotional materials, etc. to promote cost efficiency.

Except for the work performed by the Executive Director, all tasks are performed with volunteer labor. All operations from receiving to recycling are made as automated as possible so volunteer participation is very easy. Volunteers also help with many of the Administrative tasks from answering phones to helping to update the FREE GEEK web site. Most building materials used are salvaged or recycled. In less than 3 months, FREE GEEK has created and entire network infrastructure with scaleable architecture valued at over $17,000.00 in equipment and consulting fees for no cost, and a inventory and a custom designed volunteer database worth approximately $20,000.00 was also donated. A remodel of the 5000 S.F. facility was accomplished with donated labor for less than $250.00 in material costs. FREE GEEK has gotten it's portable classroom desks donated from Anthro Corp., a local computer furniture manufacturer, and it's high speed internet access donated by EasyStreet, a local internet service provider. FREE GEEK is currently listed with Metro, for no fee, as a Portland location for computer recycling drop-off. FREE GEEK makes a commitment to have all its needs donated as much as possible.

7. Does your jurisdiction have an integrated Solid Waste Management Plan? If not, describe how your project fits into the states solid waste hierarchy of Prevent, Reuse, Recycle, Compost, Energy Recovery, Disposal. If your answer is yes, please provide the date of the last update and whether or not the plan identifies your project as a priority? Please explain.

Yes. The Metro Regional Solid Waste Management Plan (1995-2000) was last updated in 1996. FREE GEEK is not mentioned specifically in the plan because the organization was not in existence at the time the plan was written. However, we feel that the FREE GEEK project accomplishes it goals almost entirely within the top three levels of the solid waste hierarchy. By accepting all computers and peripherals, in any condition, FREE GEEK directly reduces the amount of solid waste generated. FREE GEEK finds the best future use of all donated equipment. FREE GEEK recycles all the material that cannot be used. Internally, the FREE GEEK operation recycles all the paper products it uses along with cans bottles, plastic, cardboard and Styrofoam. Some amount of composting takes place, as FREE GEEK maintains a kitchen for use by the volunteers, with the compost buckets contents being distributed to various neighborhood volunteers' gardens. Some small amount of solid waste is generated by the daily operation of a public facility and disposed of by Trashco, a local waste management company.

Supplemental Questions - Waste Prevention or Reuse Grants

WP-1) Describe how your project will impact materials, water, and energy conservation and how it will prevent waste generation. Include estimates of resources saved, amount of waste generation prevented, target audience, and goals of the project.

100% of all technology taken in by FREE GEEK is either reused directly in its original form, or recycled. Re-using technology reduces the need for new consumer products, conserving both materials and energy. There was no drop-off facility in the City of Portland for computer or electronics recycling prior to the existence of FREE GEEK. StRUT (Students Recycling Used Technology), another re-use and recycling program, is located over 12 miles away in the town of Hillsborough; Quantum Resource Recovery, in Beaverton, cannot perform best future use sorting of equipment and all product they receive is ground up and melted down for materials salvage.

FREE GEEK Is unable to estimate the resources saved, because no accurate data exists about the amount of older computers in circulation or storage, or the rate at which they will be upgraded and disposed of, or how to estimate any reduction in new consumer product production. However, based on the current evidence of the first computer drop-off event held by Metro, where 5 tons of material were processed and recycled, with no best future use applied, FREE GEEK will have a significant impact on the problem.

The target audience for donations and waste reduction is individuals, local businesses, organizations and local governments that are upgrading their computer equipment or have computer equipment sitting around in valuable storage space that they might otherwise dump in the local landfill.

The target recipients for the refurbished computers are individuals and non-profit organizations who cannot afford new computers.

The production goal of the project is to process enough equipment to generate up to 100 refurbished computer systems per month.

WP-2) Describe any public/private partnerships the project will use and develop. How will they enhance your project or better ensure your projects success?

Quantum Resource Recovery is the primary private partnership that allows FREE GEEK to recycle any equipment that they can not re-use. This allows FREE GEEK to accept all donated equipment in any condition, making it simple for potential donors.

Community Computers in Eugene takes all Apple computers received by FREE GEEK, refurbishes them and gives them to individuals in need. This partnership allows FREE GEEK to concentrate resources around one type of operating system, while accommodating best future use for all donated equipment.

FREE GEEK is currently in discussion with Mercy Corps, a non-profit helping emerging nations with technology needs, to share donated resources and to provide them with refurbished computers and peripherals from the FREE GEEK program, for shipment to third world countries in need of technology. Allowing for the increased re-use of technology that would not be considered acceptable in the U.S. market.

FREE GEEK is also listed with the City of Portland, the City of Vancouver, Washington, Metro and Multnomah County as a resource for the recycling of computers and electronic appliances, providing free outreach though out the region.

WP-3) If your project involves education and awareness campaigns or technical assistance, describe how you will implement them.

FREE GEEK has received emails from all around the globe, asking where computers can be recycled. Links to computer and technology recycling resources around the world will be collated and made available on the FREE GEEK website. Volunteers will maintain and update this list. In addition, FREE GEEK will make available online, the organizational model for similar operations to be started in other communities. The FREE GEEK website is an on going project supported by several different volunteers.

WP-4) If the project includes backyard composting, describe how you will measure composting levels and how many households are actually composting after the project is implemented.

There is no backyard composting included in this project.

WP-5) How will you evaluate the effectiveness of your project?

[Repeated from Grant Application Narrative Question No. 3]

Every piece of equipment donated to FREE GEEK is recorded into a inventory database that tracks it's status through out the process, from receiving, through recycling or "adoption" by a volunteer. This allows FREE GEEK to physically count the number of computers donated, recycled, re-used and returned into the system. The database also tracks volunteer hours donated and hours that are traded in exchange for services. The data base is designed to allow any multitude of reports that can track a variety of statistics daily, monthly or yearly. Quantum Resource Recovery recycles all of the unusable product, and will furnish FREE GEEK with monthly reports on all material processed. Web traffic indicators on the FREE GEEK web site shows the number of visitors, by the hour, day, week, month or year. Since September, daily unique visitors to the FREE GEEK website have increased by almost 700%. Web traffic is a good indicator of media exposure and the success of other outreach projects.