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Monday, February 26, 2024
NEWS  |  CAMPUS

Nonprofit employs disabled residents in E-waste collection

In a warehouse lined with metal storage shelves sit 500-pound cardboard boxes filled with disassembled computer equipment. Five-foot towers of microwaves and a sea of desktop computers lie on the floor next to a group of outdated stereo systems.

The Arc of Alachua County is a national nonprofit organization that provides job training and employment to the developmentally disabled. It employs about 120 residents in occupational areas like packaging, recycling, janitorial and lawn services.

Every day at The Arc, about 25 developmentally disabled Gainesville residents dismantle collected E-waste from across the city. The parts are then sold to businesses where they are recycled into new products.

The city decided earlier this month to start an E-waste collection program with The Arc and its environmentally friendly services. Once a week, the organization will collect unwanted or broken electronics that residents leave outside their homes and dissect them at its warehouse.

After employees dissect the machines, the pieces are sold to various companies that melt the mostly metal products and reuse the material, said Todd Baker, assistant director for adult nonresidential programs at The Arc.

For the past 10 years, Baker has overseen the organization’s employment services. He had the idea to start the E-waste program two years ago.

“I’m always thinking of ways that we can employ more people,” Baker said. “This was a way to keep waste out of the landfills and create more jobs for people who really needed them.”

The Arc has been collecting E-waste from houses around the city for the last year as a trial to make sure the program ran smoothly.

In that time, it has collected about 12,000 pounds of E-waste from residents, which would have been thrown into the city’s landfill, said Steve Joplin, manager of the city’s solid waste division.

The city decided to partner with the organization because it wanted an inexpensive way to provide a convenient, ecological alternative to throwing away old electronics.

Each month, the city pays The Arc about $300 for its E-waste service, Joplin said.

“We are always looking for out-of-the-box ways to solve problems,” Joplin said. “For some people, the big deal with this program may not be that we are recycling. It may be that somebody now has a job.”

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The E-waste program employs about 30 residents with disabilities ranging from developmental to physical disabilities.

The money given to the organization for its collection services and products is used to pay its employees, Baker said.

Most people who come to The Arc seeking work have never had jobs before, said Executive Director Dick Bradley.

Working at The Arc teaches them workplace skills set that some people take for granted, such as getting to work on time, learning how to use tools and communicating with bosses and co-workers, Bradley said.

Eventually, the staff at The Arc helps place its employees in jobs within the community.

“The ultimate goal is to create jobs that help them develop a skill that is marketable outside of the confines of The Arc,” Bradley said. “The recycling industry continues to grow, so hopefully there will be more and more job opportunities for those working in our E-waste program.”

Contact Adrianna Paidas at apaidas@alligator.org.

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