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Revision as of 10:17, 9 January 2006 by Baxrob (talk | contribs) (oly contact email)
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Random midnight thought: To the extent that we are ill-equipped to jump into big debates already involving heavily-funded lobbyists, can we solicit PR help from foundations that have given to us in the past? --Pete 03:43, 6 Jan 2006 (PST)

John Dodge already contacted Oly before his story in the Olympian, but they weren't able to get back to him yet. [I will do this or ask Jim to, on Monday -rob]

JC may already know Ha Tran.

response (draft)


You sent us some questions in September, and we failed to reply promptly. In light of legislation being prepared for the state legislature (, we recognize that an important opportunity to participate in the future of e-waste handling may be passing us by. We hope to correct that.

FreeGeek Olympia is one year old, but has strong ties with the original FreeGeek in Portland, Oregon. The Olympia organization is still in its infancy in many ways, so in our responses below, we include data from both organizations. Data from FreeGeek Portland demonstrates the kind of success that FreeGeek Olympia is working toward. Also, FreeGeek Portland serves as a resource for FreeGeek Olympia when there are large hardware donations, needs for administrative support, etc.

If you are able to offer any perspective on the current political climate around this legislation, we would be most grateful. We hope to be an integral part of e-waste handling in the future, and we have much experience to bring to the table. Relating to the system envisioned in this bill, our greatest success has been in repair, reuse, and harnessing volunteer labor. Additionally, our programs extend beyond waste handling: the job skills our volunteers develop at FreeGeek are another major benefit to our community.

To illustrate the scale of our operations: in 5 years, FreeGeek Portland has put nearly 6,500 refurbished computer systems back into use. That's about 20% of the 31,000 systems and 33,000 monitors that have been donated. FreeGeek Olympia is well on its way, with about 500 systems taken in during its first year, and 35 refurbished and redistributed so far. Whatever materials cannot be reused are recycled. Both organizations have experienced rapid and dramatic growth, and hope to expand to meet more e-waste disposal needs every year.

All this is accomplished without taxpayer funding, and with minimal grants from foundations. The vast majority of our labor force consists of volunteers seeking a computer or job skills, or just enjoying the process. And the FreeGeek model is being replicated across the country in such cities as Columbus, Chicago, and Michiana. Indeed, organizations as distant as South Africa have solicited our advice in setting up reuse and recycling programs for e-waste.

Detailed (if belated) responses to your questions follow. Please contact either of us if you have further questions. And if you would like a press kit for FreeGeek Portland, we can mail one out in the coming week.

Pete Forsyth, FreeGeek Portland (503)453-9766,

Rob Baxter, FreeGeek Olympia (360)705-9999,

  • What types of equipments or components do you set aside for reuse?

Reuse is prioritized over recycling. This is a core principle of FreeGeek's mission.

Equipment currently accepted for donation:

We accept computers and computer-related equipment regardless of working condition ($10 required fee for monitors.) Non-computer equipment, such as copiers, TVs, and microwaves and other major appliances is not accepted in general, though Portland accepts audio/visual equipment.

Portland FreeGeek has accepted donations as large as 117 systems and 85 monitors, and to our knowledge has never turned a donation away for being too large. Due to current space contraints, special arrangements are required for unusually large donations in Olympia.

  • Does your organization take trade-ins?

We take hardware donations. Neither Olympia nor Portland offer anything in exchange for them, but the donations do roll in at an ever-increasing rate. Selling hardware augments our revenue stream, but is not our main focus.

  • What type of equipment does your organization refurbish and repair?


Computer systems (including laptops), stereo equipment, DVD and video players, and printers. Monitors and other equipment are reused where possible, but we don't have active repair programs for them.


We refurbish desktop computer systems, mainly through troubleshooting and component replacement. Extensive repairs of equipment are beyond our current means. Working printers, monitors and other equipment are also sold or redistributed.

  • Are the refurbished/repaired equipments marketed and, if so, at what price?

Yes. Most PCs (and some other equipment) are given away, to volunteers and non-profits. But we do sell items that fall outside our specs for giving. Sample prices below:

Fully functional, Internet-ready systems (500-600 MHz, no monitor/keyboard/mouse) are sold for $50. Other systems are sold at $1 per 10 MHz, and range in speed from 450 MHz to 2.5 GHz. 15" monitors: $7.50, inkjet printers: $20-40, laser printers: $60-200.

  • How much waste was generated during repairs and how are they handled?

All waste is separated to the best of our ability, and sold to recycling companies we deem environmentally responsible. (Full list is available on request.) As a non-profit, this is a core part of our mission. Hard drives are physically destroyed or erased 3 times, to ensure clients' privacy. We pay to have monitors disposed of safely, and pass that cost on to equipment donors.

  • In your experience, what are the barriers to reuse?

In society at large, the greatest barrier is lack of expertise and resources to make the most of complex equipment as it begins to fail, or no longer meets the needs it was intended for. Overcoming that barrier is the primary goal of our organization. We do a better job of it than we have seen anywhere else, and have several startups in other cities emulating our model.

Software can also be a barrier. Modern commercial software is expensive, and demands high-end hardware to perform at its best. One very beneficial strategy has been to use free software instead of commercial software. This spares us the fiscal and administrative overhead of ensuring licensing compliance on a system-by-system basis, and also allows us to closely tailor the software to available hardware capabilities (to maximize performance.)

original request for feedback

Here's the email survey Pete mentions (it was never replied to --baxrob):

Subject: 	Reuse electronics
Date: 	Thu, 8 Sep 2005 11:30:43 -0700
From: 	Tran, Ha (ECY) <HTRA461@ECY.W_.G_V>
To: 	   Info at Olympia


The Department of Ecology have been asked by the state to make 
recommendations for the handling of electronic equipments.  It is 
important to make reuse a priority and recognize existing projects.  On 
behalf of Ecology, I would like to request your assistance in gathering 
information on current reuse infrastructure.

I understand that FreeGeek has played a part in solving e-waste 
problems.  Please let me know if there are anyone I may contact for the 
following questions:

    * What types of equipments or components do you set aside for reuse? 
    * Does your organization take trade-ins?
    * What type of equipment does your organization refurbish and repair?
    * Are the refurbished/repaired equipments marketed and, if so, at
      what price?
    * How much waste was generated during repairs and how are they handled?
    * In your experience, what are the barriers to reuse?

The information will help Ecology better understand the roles and needs 
of reuse programs in the state.  Thank you for your assistance,

*/Ha Tran/*//
Department of Ecology
Solid Waste & Financial Assistance
Electronics Waste
Phone: (360) 407-6064
Fax: (360) 407-6102