Free Geek Volunteer - Receiving

Free Geek is a Portland computer reuse and recycling non-profit organization. Free Geek takes in almost all e-waste and either reuses it or responsibly recycles it. They are an amazing organization staffed by a huge volunteer force and run as a consensus-based organization. Every volunteer gets a free computer after only 24 hours of work. So, they get hundreds of volunteers. They take in anyone regardless of skill or ability and they provide training, friendly oversight, and lots of encouragement. They even teach you free classes before you leave home with your Ubuntu computer. Yes, Free Geek only sells computers with the Ubuntu Free operating system on them!

I took the tour for fun and had to sign up for a couple volunteer hours just to see what it was like. I don’t need any more computers, but it’s the least I can do to offset the huge pile of e-waste I generate. During my tour, it seemed like receiving is always in dire need of more help because it involves some serious memorization, heavy lifting, repetitive tasks, and people skills all in the same station. Receiving is responsible for getting every “donation” of e-waste in through the door, counting it, sorting it, organization it, and finally dispersing it through out the building. Much of what gets recycled meets its fate in receiving. In fact, Free Geek goes way beyond what I was expecting to respect the privacy of donors. Every item that might have personal data on it was dropped in a secure bin for wiping. As a volunteer I only handled the stuff long enough to put it in a bin and it was gone. There was even a short debate about how to wipe phone numbers off a pager before recycling it!

Learning how recieving works is complicated. Every imaginable piece of junk has a place. It’s a daunting task finding places for all the junk people drop off. Thankfully it’s remarkably well organized with images, charts and bins. Today, we unloaded 240 nice Dell computers from a truck (thank you PSU), sorted massive piles of cords, found places for hundreds of do-dads, and sorted 30 – 40 monitors. This is the dream job for an electronics pack rat. I’ve never seen so many wild pieces of electronics before. Some things I saw today were a:

  • 286 system still in it’s box and packed carefully in the original foam
  • 3 Megaphones
  • Box of 20-30 I-pods
  • set of 100+ RCA cables
  • $99 DSL modem that Qwest tried to force me to purchase.
  • Huge server rack with enclosure
  • 300+ desktop systems
  • Massive TV set

It was like opening gifts at Christmas. I just wish people would rubber band their cords before donating them. If donations came in with the cords wrapped up, receiving would be a lot easier on the team. I loved every minute in receiving today. Unloading a big truck full of computers, pushing giant server racks, sorting and separating cool gadgets into bins and giving new customers a friendly greeting as they dropped off e-waste. Everyone I met today, both volunteers and staff were really friendly, motivated, and positive! It made the experience all the more exciting, but I’m a little sad we didn’t get to put batteries in the megaphones.