Tech dump is finding a place for ex-offenders

Electronic waste is the fastest-growing garbage stream in the world. This nonprofit is counting on it to give formerly incarcerated people a head start.

There is no obvious solution for recycling electronics. Are they plastic, metal, or hazardous chemicals? Electronic waste is the fastest-growing garbage stream in the world. But breaking down the gadgets into recyclable parts is slow work.

But Tech Dump, a Minnesota nonprofit, is up to the task — and they’re focusing on employing recently incarcerated men and women, providing real-world job experience to people who might need another chance.

“My hope is that Tech Dump is not only a place that is employing people that are often overlooked because of a criminal background, but that that we are also proving that a business can be successful by prioritizing our work on this amazing group of talent,” said Amanda LaGrange, the CEO of Tech Dump, in a video.

“We’re proving those stereotypes wrong. We’re showing that they are amazing people that might have had experience with the justice system and have so much to bring to our community.”

LaGrange’s friend first conceived of the idea for Tech Dump because they wanted to build a business that employed ex-offenders. Eventually, they focused on the task of recycling and repurposing discarded electronics and e-waste.

And, with electronic waste being an ever-expanding trash stream, business is good.

The nonprofit offers recently incarcerated people a work-readiness program that provides job training and professional experience for 18 months to give men and women the skills they need to get a job.

So far, Tech Dump is on a roll — recycling three to four million pounds of electronic waste a year.

“We recycle anything with a cable, cord, or battery,” says LaGrange, adding that the most common items are laptops, desktops, flat-screen TVs, and old tube-style TVs.

The staff manually breaks down each electronic waste item, one by one, with hand tools, drills, and screwdrivers, removing tiny screws and salvaging any parts they can. Some things are refurbished and sold at the sister resale store, Tech Discounts, reports Grist. Other items are dismantled into the plastic, aluminum, or copper components and recycled.

Diverting electronics from landfills is important work, too.

“We underestimate how harmful the contents of our electronics are,” says LaGrange. Lead, mercury, polybrominated flame retardants, and lithium are only a few of the harmful elements contained in electronic waste. For example, there can be up to three kilograms of lead in an old-style CRT computer screen. If dumped in a badly designed landfill, that could leach into the ground and contaminate our drinking water.

LaGrange hopes that by reclaiming some of those materials, there will be less toxic waste, damage to the environment, and less destructive mining.

“When I think of who inspires me in this industry, it’s my team,” she says. “They are recycling important resources.”

We’d love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected]

Related
Digital nomad: why work from home if you can work from anywhere in the world?
Digital nomad visas make it easier than ever for remote workers to live in foreign countries for extended periods of time.
inclusive economy
How to build an inclusive economy6:59
Our economy was designed to exclude and exploit people of color. These entrepreneurs are working to level the scales.
Series | Hard Reset
The underdog challenging McDonald’s and Wall Street8:07
Everytable is scaling access to wealth through a healthy fast food revolution.
scoutible video game
Video game reveals your “soft skills” to potential employers
The Scoutible app reveals job candidates’ soft skills, which often don’t translate through resumes and interviews but are essential for success.
Keep Employees Safe During COVID-19
How will businesses keep employees safe during COVID-19?
Lockdowns are ending but the coronavirus pandemic isn’t over, so what can businesses do to keep employees safe during COVID-19?
Up Next
Subscribe to Freethink for more great stories