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Reusing electronic waste = free and affordable computers

Posted on 10 March 2020 by Tesha Christensen

PCs for People diverts electronics from waste stream, promotes digital inclusion

PCs for People Tech specialist Chang Yang tests more than 100 donated computers
every day. If a computer can’t be repaired, its usable components are refitted and
its unusable ones are recycled. Last year, PCs for People provided affordable computers and related technology to 804 customers in the 55104 zip code. At its most recent
community event in this part of St. Paul, 50 computers were distributed to families
at no cost. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin) >> Read more on page 5.

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Last summer, PCs for People expanded to a 31,000-square-foot warehouse in the Como neighborhood. National communications and marketing director Tina Stennes said, “We were bursting at the seams. Our original location at 1481 Marshall Ave. is still our home-base for retail, but it was also our recycling and refurbishing space for 20 years.
“We’ve been able to increase both the scope and scale of our operations since we expanded. Our combined workforce in the two locations is now close to 50. One fifth of the employees at the warehouse are adults with disabilities.”
Stennes said, “Everybody that works here has a real passion for our mission, which is to provide income-eligible adults with equitable access to technology. In my previous job (in workforce development), I saw that lack of access to technology was a huge barrier to people trying to get ahead.”
PCs for People accepts donated computers – and other forms of digital technology – from individual and corporate donors. Items do not need to be in working order. Corporations are considerable donors because the average lifespan of digital technology in the corporate world is three years. There are a lot of digital electronics entering the waste stream.
The new warehouse is stuffed with used laptops, desktops, old typewriters, outdated cell phones, ancient car phones, hard drives, miles of USB cords, and every component imaginable, but there’s room for more. Email recycle@pcsforpeople.org to schedule a free pick-up of your used digital technology.
Privacy protection is a huge issue when it comes to refurbishing computers. Stennes explained, “We hold the highest industry certification for data security. The donor should do a data transfer prior to coming in, but we’ll do the rest. The computer is literally wiped clean of all personal information; the donor is given a transfer of ownership. We guarantee that the parts will be refurbished or responsibly recycled.”

Free computer events
PCs for People hosts about 10 community events each month, where they bring refurbished computers out into the community for distribution at no cost. Participating families are pre-selected using income eligibility based on the free and reduced lunch program guidelines. Most of these events take place in schools, and everything needed to operate the computers is included.
Stennes said, “In 2018, 60% of the customers we served through our community events or through our store had never owned a computer before. Often students know how to operate a computer, but their parents don’t. We follow up with new owners, providing tech support and digital literacy support. Every computer comes with a no-questions-asked one year warranty.”

Saytun Ahmed is a customer service representative at the Marshall Avenue store. She spent a day on the line in the new warehouse, getting a feel for the recycling process. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Affordable computers for sale
When a prospective customer enters the Marshall Ave. store, they are greeted by a customer service representative. Each customer provides income verification paperwork; acceptable forms are listed on the website www.pcsforpeople.org. Income eligible customers can purchase a desk top starting at $30 or a laptop starting at $50, which is approximately 1/10 of the used market value. Each refurbished computer comes with all new RAM, hard drive, Microsoft Word 10, and the same warranty as computers distributed through community programs.
Another point of removing digital barriers is having affordable access to the internet. Income eligible customers can choose to buy low cost internet (as low as $15/month). This service is prepaid, has high speed 4G, and runs off of a mobile hot spot.
“We want customers to have an experience in our store that is as professional as any other retail outlet, and we want them to leave with a computer that fully meets their needs,” said Stennes. “Customers often come back and tell us what they’ve used their computer for. Or, they’ll send an email saying, ‘This is the first email I’ve ever sent. Thank you!’”

PCs for People national communications and marketing director Tina Stennes said, “Last year, we provided affordable computers and related technology to 804 customers in the 55104 zip code. At our most recent community event in this part of St. Paul, 50 computers were distributed to families at no cost.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

PCs for People started in St. Paul, has expanded to Denver and Cleveland, and plans to open soon in Baltimore and Kansas City. If you are interested in their mission of digital inclusion and waste stream reduction in St. Paul, email volunteer@pcsforpeople.org to learn about volunteer experiences for groups. No tech experience is needed.

 






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