The Trash Blog

Dave Being Frank About E-Waste Recycling

Perhaps you remember the scene from Star Wars: A New Hope where Han, Luke, and Leia, and Chewbacca are all trapped in the garbage compactor on the Death Star. I always assumed that the ultimate end of garbage on the Death Star was jettisoning it into the ultimate landfill: space. Have you ever wondered why they would bother compacting the trash if they planned on releasing it into space? Another interesting question is how that slimy octopus monster survived being squeezed by the compressor and jettisoned. Even if it has incredibly sticky tentacles, you’d think being exposed to the vacuum of space isn’t too healthy. I’m no scientist, though, so let’s leave these questions be until George Lucas decides to make them irrelevant by producing awful sequels.

Dave knows his e-waste.

Dave knows his e-waste. When I showed up unannounced and said I wanted to write something about e-waste, he asked what I knew about it and I realized I didn’t know anything. Dave, on the other hand, knows his industry from the dust that comes out of the computers The Hackery takes apart to which recyclers in BC are doing the best job.

What put me onto this interesting line of Star Wars nostalgia was a visit to a place called The Hackery. The Hackery is a computer repair and recycling shop in East Vancouver.  A bell hanging from the door jangled when I walked in, but nobody seemed to be around. The front-end of the shop is filled with vintage computers, more modern parts and monitors, and in the corner, a Lego version of the Death Star. While I stood contemplating the Death Star, Dave Repa, the founder of The Hackery, came in from out back.

Laptops to Commodores to Imacs and everything in between.

Laptops to Commodores to Imacs and PCs.

Dave is practical and capable. He doesn’t seem to suffer from many illusions about the world of recycling (something he says is a gift from his years in the automotive recycling industry). The Hackery is a business and he operates it as efficiently as possible. At the same time, he’s the kind of guy who tracks down a special production line screwdriver that isn’t made any more in order make the job better for his employees. This sounds a bit like flattery, but I think he’d probably respond by saying it makes the job faster, too. Waste, in Dave’s mind, is like death and taxes: unavoidable.

As far as e-waste recycling goes, The Hackery accepts used electronic equipment from desktop computers to CRTs to laptops and cell phones. About the only electronics they don’t accept are photocopiers and smoke detectors. Dave harvests whatever reusable parts there are and recycles the rest. He charges no fee for the electronics people bring him and even provides free pickup.

The Hackery dismantles the computers they receive, harvesting them for reusable parts like power supplies, hard drives, keyboards, as well as many other items. Dave knows his stuff: in seconds he can place a value on parts that will sell.

The Hackery sorts the parts of the electronics they dismantle and sell these parts to various refiners.

The Hackery sorts the parts of the electronics they dismantle and sell these parts to various refiners.

While I was there, a customer came in looking for a new power supply for a computer that was made in 2006. Dave had just what was needed. The customer mentioned that he was interested in upgrading the computer so it could run Windows 7. Dave said it wasn’t going to work—too old. The customer was startled: Too old? It’s a 2006. Such is the market for electronics. Dave said there is pretty much no re-use market for the electronics of the early 2000s. Not old enough to be vintage, too old to be anything but obsolete.

In the back of The Hackery we found piles of electronics.

In the back of The Hackery we found piles of electronics already dismantled or awaiting the terrible screw-driver. Dave’s dismantling room had a big ventilation system and holes in the walls through which the various materials were tossed after they had been harvested from the electronics.

It turns out that the majority of the recycling that The Hackery does is end-of-life.

This machine crushes things.

This machine crushes things.

Customers like the man with the computer from 2006 inevitably discover that it’s cheaper to buy a new(er) computer. They bring Dave their old computers and he and his employees dismantle them. What can’t be reused, they sort into various categories: steel, copper, circuit boards, and assorted plastics. The Hackery recycles certain materials with EPRA (which they don’t get any remuneration for), and sell materials for metal recovery to refineries. The most valuable material The Hackery harvests from computers are circuit boards.

Dave employs three people, although he’s had more employees when the economy was doing better. He sells vintage computers and parts all over the world and does repairs. Dave told me that he does think e-waste recycling is a viable industry, although he doesn’t think end-of-life recycling can be profitable unless you are big (Province-sanctioned programs like the EPRA and Encorp) or dirty (willing to export overseas knowing the e-waste will be dumped improperly or dismantled in awful conditions). For a company like The Hackery to survive in the current economy and regulatory environment, they have to rely on repairs and sales (vintage and bargain).

This is a 1200 pound bale of steel from the tower cases of computers.

This is a 1200 pound bale of steel from the tower cases of computers.

Dave isn’t going to get rich. But, at least in Vancouver, The Hackery is one of the few small-time businesses making it work ethically in the world of e-waste recycling.

This entry was written by Philip and published on March 20, 2013 at 5:05 am. It’s filed under E-Waste, Facts, Re-Use, Recycling and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

3 thoughts on “Dave Being Frank About E-Waste Recycling

  1. Chris Stewart on said:

    As always, interesting. I always wonder what the macro statistics are. How many tons of old CRT-type displays are dumped world wide these days? In what ways does e-dumping contribute to the pollution problems of Earth and where are these problems most prevelant?

    By the way, did anyone notice the similarity between Dave’s appearance and that of the author?

    Keep on! Right on! Write on!

  2. Pingback: E-Waste Recycling in British Columbia | The Trash Blog

  3. Interesting post on e waste recycling challenge being handled so positively and enthusiastically. That’s really a great initiative.

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