Volunteer Orientation Tours

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Tours and Orientations

Orientation and tours are a very important part of Free Geek's day-to-day operations. They impart important safety information, both in a general sense and specific for each station. For this reason it is very important that the tours given are consistent.


Roundup the Newbies

When dealing with less than 10 people its generally best to round folks up in the kitchen. If a larger group arrives try to find a central location like receiving or outside in the loading bay if its nice out. While folks are waiting give them the Volunteer Database Intake Form to fill out, and the adoption package handout.


Begin the tour by introducing yourself, then begin a round of introductions encouraging folks to tell you why they are here so that you know what to focus on.

Background Education

When explaining the background information of how and why Free geek came to be KEEP IT SIMPLE! If folks are interested in in-depth information let them know they can find it on our website or inside the educational handouts we give out.

How was Free Geek born?

Free Geek was founded in Portland in February of 2000 to recycle computer technology and provide low and no-cost computing to individuals and not-for-profit and social change organizations in the community and throughout the world.

Version 1.0 of Free Geek created a non-profit franchise model that has since been adopted by communities all over North America, there are 9 Free Geeks in the U.S. and one here (us) in Vancouver.

Why was Free Geek born?

Free Geek was founded for two reasons: Environmental and Social concerns.

Environmental Concerns

If treated properly, electronic waste (E-Waste) is a valuable source for secondary raw materials. However, if not treated properly, it is a major source of toxins and carcinogens. Rapid technology change, low initial cost and planned obsolescence have resulted in a fast growing problem around the globe. Electronic waste represents 2 percent of America's trash in landfills, but it equals 70 percent of overall toxic waste.[3]

Due to higher reuse and repair capability, as well as lower environmental standards and working conditions, markets for used electronics have expanded in China, India, Kenya, and elsewhere. Generally, the cost of transport is covered by legitimate reuse and repair value. However, there is a disincentive to screen out electronic waste, which requires additional staff as well as environmental liability in the (developed) generator country. Demand is also strong where there is copper and aluminum and plastic smelting. Guiyu in the Shantou region of China, and Delhi and Bangalore in India, all have electronic waste processing areas.[4] Uncontrolled burning, disassembly, and disposal are causing environmental and health problems, including occupational safety and health effects among those directly involved, due to the methods of processing the waste. Trade in electronic waste is controlled by the Basel Convention. However, the Basel Convention specifically exempts repair and refurbishment of used electronics in Annex IX.

Electronic waste is of concern largely due to the toxicity and carcinogenicity of some of the substances if processed improperly. Toxic substances in electronic waste may include lead, mercury and cadmium. Carcinogenic substances in electronic waste may include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). A typical computer monitor may contain more than 6% lead by weight, much of which is in the lead glass of the CRT. Capacitors, transformers, PVC insulated wires, PVC coated components that were manufactured before 1977 often contain dangerous amounts of polychlorinated biphenyls.[5] Up to thirty-eight separate chemical elements are incorporated into electronic waste items. The unsustainability of discarding electronics and computer technology is another reason for the need to recycle – or perhaps more practically, reuse – electronic waste. E-waste is often exported to developing countries

Electronic waste processing systems have matured in recent years following increased regulatory, public, and commercial scrutiny, and a commensurate increase in entrepreneurial interest. Part of this evolution has involved greater diversion of electronic waste from energy intensive, down-cycling processes (eg. conventional recycling) where equipment is reverted to a raw material form. This diversion is achieved through reuse and refurbishing. The environmental and social benefits of reuse are several: diminished demand for new products and their commensurate requirement for virgin raw materials (with their own environmental externalities not factored into the cost of the raw materials) and larger quantities of pure water and electricity for associated manufacturing, less packaging per unit, availability of technology to wider swaths of society due to greater affordability of products, and diminished use of landfills.

Challenges remain, when materials cannot or will not be reused, conventional recycling or disposal via landfill often follow. Standards for both approaches vary widely by jurisdiction, whether in developed or developing countries. The complexity of the various items to be disposed of, cost of environmentally sound recycling systems, and the need for concerned and concerted action to collect and systematically process equipment are the resources most lacked -- though this is changing. Many of the plastics used in electronic equipment contain flame retardants. These are generally halogens added to the plastic resin, making the plastics difficult to recycle.

In June 2008, a container of illegal electronic waste, destined from Port of Oakland in the US to Sanshui District in mainland China, was intercepted in Hong Kong by Greenpeace.[6] E-waste is imported as a second-hand goods to Ghana.[7][8]


Social Concerns

Generally, when I [Adam] give tours, I follow the path the hardware takes. I start in the warehouse by giving a review of what hardware is acceptable and not acceptable. I explain where our outbound recycles are going (Provincial program, or shipped to our own vetted recyclers) and use this opportunity to mention BAN and the importance of not contributing to the e-waste nightmare. Then I continue with monitor testing and a talk about the volumes of donations we receive, and why we can't keep every good working monitor [Adam: I start with monitor testing because it is a one-stop place. They can see everything from the beginning to the end all in one place]. Then we talk about how most of the good hardware is given out to other non-profit and community groups in the form of hardware grants, as well as mentioning the adoption program.


At this stage I'll wander towards Eval 1, and begin talking about the various evaluations that happen on the systems as they proceed through volunteer hands. I explain that eval 1 is a triage station, setup so that volunteers with no computer knowledge can, with a little training, easily filter out any potential cream for further evaluation. Eval 2 is next, here I explain that this is where we really do the wheat/chaff separation. We get the machines booted, and write down on the computer what kind of- and speed of processor we are dealing with.


Anything that has failed the evaluation stations (after it has been verified by a staff member) goes to dismantling. This is one of the things that sets Free Geek apart from many other recyclers, in that we strip the computers down into all of their component parts, making sure each part is recycled correctly. The purpose of this station is to separate the motherboard and other potentially valuable materials from the case and plastic and other not-so-valuable recyclables. The motherboards are then cleaned of any additions (CPU's and heat sinks, RAM/Cache chips, CMOS and other batteries), each being collected with like in the appropriate sized container.

Kitchen and Bathroom

I use this time to point out the kitchen and bathroom locations, because we are in the same general area now and pointing them out is an easy thing. All eating is to be done in the kitchen and it can be used as a 'chill out' or rest room as well, if the operations are overwhelming.

The Mezzanine

Next on the tour is the 'Mezz. This is where all the parts that have been pulled out by evaluation and dismantle are tested and if necessary built back into new computers. Parts that come up here are further sorted and then tested at various stations (Video card, hard drive, ram). Can also talk about Printer and other "floating" testing now as well. Then we talk about building, and putting these various bits back together. I'll restate that most of the building is being done for hardware grants and to feed the adoption program, and mention that we do have a thrift store that sells hardware as well.

The Store

Then I take the tour downstairs, and finish it in the store and server room.