CIC and Impact Hub Boston provide tremendous resources to their member organizations, in infrastructure, networking opportunities, and kitchen snacks at a minimum. Less well known might be: they collect and will facilitate the recycling of our electronic waste!
Electronic waste is the fastest growing aspect of the municipal waste stream and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that only 15-20% of e-waste is recycled. Electronics in landfills and incinerators release toxic substances that have been linked to numerous health problems, as well as depleting resources used in their production. Recycling metals from electronic waste uses just a fraction of the energy needed to mine new materials, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and keeping some resources (precious metals, copper) in the ground.
The brainchild behind our electronics recycling system is Dr. Liz O’Day. It all began about six years ago, when Liz was a graduate student at Harvard University studying biological and biomedical sciences. She sponsored a child in an orphanage in Mexico, and during a visit experienced how a computer expanded the girls’ world. While her young sponsoree most liked to stream Justin Bieber videos, Liz recognized the tremendous opportunity for engaging and learning from the wider world in other ways as well. This contrasted with her experiences at graduate school where she saw old computers that weren’t up to date or fast enough, yet still functional, turned into doorstops. Liz became passionate to get computers into the hands of people who want them, and don’t have access or ability to afford them.
Liz founded Proyecto Chispa (Project Spark) in 2010. Initially, fellow students and IT volunteers came together to revamp donated electronics, reinstall educational software, and send the new machines to orphanages in Mexico. This loosely-organized group grew organically and it wasn’t long before they realized the model wasn’t sustainable. Sending outdated computers to countries already struggling to dispose of their own waste properly was compounding the e-waste problem. Plus, the machines often didn’t last as long as new machines might. Still, Liz estimates that during this period they recycled over 6,613 pounds of e-waste and sent 100 computers to children at orphanages in Mexico and Haiti.
After a period of reflection, the organization’s model changed, and as a newly minted a 501(c)3 organization, they now have two main components: (1) to properly recycle electronic waste (e-waste) and (2) to use the proceeds from reselling components to promote technology in geographies of need. Project Chispa collects and recycles unwanted electronics and uses the resale from recycling the parts to purchase new computers for underprivileged children throughout the world. They intend the new computers to be the “chispa” (spark) the children need that education they can break the cycle of poverty.
In 2014 she was doing a Chispa e-waste drive with the City of Cambridge and she extended the offer to CIC to participate. A match was made and they’ve been working together ever since!
Everybody has a junk drawer filled with a stash of things we’re unsure what to do with. One of Project Chispa’s initial electronic waste collection partnerships was with the town of Braintree, another was with CIC Cambridge. They make about 0.05-0.10 cents per pound of e-waste, depending on the type. These partnerships have created the framework for the currently model of business.
Currently, Chispa is supporting the re-development of The Ganesh School in Budhanilkanta, Kathmandu with a goal of raising $5000 to purchase 9 computer workstations for each new classroom in the high school and to equip the computer lab with computers, printers and internet access.
On April 25th, 2015 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake centered near Kathmandu rocked the country of Nepal, killing over 8,000 people and injured more than 21,000. As entire villages lay flattened, nearly 3.5 million people were made homeless and estimates suggest that rebuilding the economy will easily exceed $5 billion US dollars.
In addition, over 9,000 schools crumbled in the earthquake. The Ganesh School saw one building completely collapse and the other building’s top two floors severely affected, leaving over 1000 school children to use only the remaining first and second floors.
The Global Shapers Kathmandu Hub, a nonprofit organization in Nepal, has set out to build a new Ganesh school building in in partnership with the school board and Ministry of Education. Each classroom is designed to have all the modern teaching tools, including computers. The second phase of the project includes building a computer lab, science lab, and library.
You can help Project Chispa by making a donation or participating in our upcoming Boston electronic waste collection this fall (stay tuned for dates). For a full list of items that Project Chispa collects, see the list here.
Project Chispa organizes electronic waste collection events at local biotech companies, school districts, municipalities, and office buildings. If you know of a site that might be interested in hosting an electronics recycling collection drive, be in touch with Liz.