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?

The information technology revolution has had manifold benefits, but it has also given rise to two serious problems. Free Geek was founded as a result of Environmental and Social concerns.

Environmental Concerns

First, computers manufactured today have a very short life cycle. Many computers are deemed obsolete within two years and discarded. In recent years, the Greater Vancouver Regional District has buried 20,000 tonnes of computer and electronic waste(e-waste) annually. Traditional methods for the disposal of computer equipment release dangerous toxins such as lead, chromium and mercury into the environment.

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.

Due to lower environmental standards and working conditions,E-waste is often exported to developing countries. Markets for used electronics have expanded in China, India, Kenya, and elsewhere. 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.

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. A typical computer monitor may contain more than 4 pounds of lead. 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.

Free Geek helps our communities take responsibility for our own waste instead of polluting our neighbors backyards. All of the recyclers we use are located in Canada or U.S. and meet the requirements of the Basel Action Network.

Social Concerns

A second problem stems from the rapid advance of computer technology: because many people lack access to this technology, they are left behind, without basic computer skills. As technology becomes ever more pervasive, those without computers find it increasingly difficult to access opportunities from employment to communication.

The concept behind Free Geek is to use these two problems to solve each other. By sharing a little knowledge of computer mechanics, a significant portion of the electronic waste bound for landfills can be refurbished into working starter equipment for individuals and organisations who may not otherwise be able to buy these items. Volunteers are trained to help process the diverted computers for reuse or recycling, receiving one of the refurbished computers in exchange for their efforts. Ultimately, it is possible to safely recover over 99% of the materials in computer equipment through reuse and recycling, thereby greatly reducing e-waste's negative environmental impact.

The result is: computer equipment is re-used rather than discarded, while members in a variety of communities gain both valuable job skills, computers, and access to the opportunities afforded by technology. It is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

So what does Free Geek do?

Free Geek is a nonprofit community organisation that reduces the environmental impact of waste electronics by reusing and recycling donated technology. Through community engagement we provide education, job skills training, Internet access and free or low cost computers to the public.

Our Programs

We are almost entirely volunteer-based, so your help means a lot. Anyone may participate, as long as they can make it to our facility to volunteer. No computer experience is required; we'll teach you everything you need to know. If you do have special skills, please let us know!


If you need a computer: After 24 hours of service, volunteers qualify for a free computer, a class on how to use it, and 1 year of free technical support. We also hope that you learn a bit about computers while you're volunteering. Just tell us you want to be in the Computer Adoption Program.

If you don't need a computer but still want to volunteer: Yay! Your help is appreciated too!


  • Receiving: where you'll take in equipment from donors
  • Evaluating: where you'll test computers to see if they can be re-used or not
  • Dismantling: where you'll take apart computers for recycling
  • Sorting: where you'll sort computer parts
  • Monitor: Testing where you'll test monitors
  • Cleaning: where you'll help organise and clean up the kitchens, bathrooms, and general areas

You also have the opportunity to do some special tasks, like help out in the Thrift Store, do data entry and other administrative work, or do some printer testing.


Coming soon!

Hardware Grants

The Physical Tour

At this point during the orientation ask for questions on what has been discussed so far. Afterwards lead folks to the receiving bay (if not already there). It's best to follow the path that hardware takes. Once at the receiving bay I start off by discussing Safety at Free Geek.


Please stay safe. There are lots of pointy things and tall piles of computer stuff at Free Geek. We ask the following of you while you're here:

  • Be careful, wear comfortable shoes (no open toes or sandals allowed), dress appropriately for your task, and alert a staff member if you see an unsafe situation that needs attention. Watch your step, as things get moved around a lot.
  • If your back or ankle or anything else starts hurting while you're volunteering, let us know and we'll have you do a different task.
  • When you lift things, don't bend over to pick them up. Bend from the knees and keep your back straight. Don't be shy to ask for help!
  • We strongly suggest wearing gloves and dust masks if you are disassembling computers.
  • If you are cut at Free Geek and it bleeds, you must let the closest staff member know immediately so that he or she may act and give directions to others accordingly. Ask for staff assistance with the First Aid Kit!
  • If you need any special consideration at all, let a staff member know so that we can work with you and help you get the most from your volunteer term.
  • If you have a cold, we encourage you to stay home & take care of yourself. If you feel a cold coming on while you're in the space, try to wash your hands a lot.
  • Free Geek is a safe, inclusive, respectful place. We don't allow harassment, abusive language, violence, theft, or other destructive behaviors here. Help keep our organization fun and inviting for all! If you feel uncomfortable with someone's behavior, let staff know.
  • Stealing or violent behavior will get you immediately banned from Free Geek.


The Receiving Bay is the first and last stop for many of our computers. At Free Geek we take up to 20 tonnes a month of e-waste. We take drop-offs from the community and also do pickups. Our pickup form is on our website for businesses and community members to fill out. A large amount of the computers we receive come from large contracts we have such as UBC and SFU. This is a volunteer station new volunteers may be doing on their first day.

The computer recycling flow

Step 1) Monitor testing=

Visually point out where monitors get tested. This is a volunteers may work up to.

Step 2) Eval

The purpose of Eval is to clean incoming computers in preparation for further handling while separating the reusable computers from recyclable computers. At this stage volunteers will attempt to post the computers and decide whether they are fast enough to be reused. If they pass our evaluation they go on to build to be either sold in our thrift store or given away. This is a station volunteers may work up to.

Step 3) Pre-Dismantling

This is the salvaging stage. A Computer is sent to Pre-Dismantle when it fails eval. At this point volunteers remove the components that may potentially be reused (point out some components). The most important part of this station is removing the hard-drive. Hard-drive's are where data is stored in a computer. Privacy is very important to Free Geek, no computer is ever turned on with a hard-drive plugged in. Once hard-drive's are removed they are over-written by a computer in the mezzanine 4x which is the national department of defense standard. This is a station volunteers may be learning their first day.

Step 4) Dismantling

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.

finances, governance, meetings