Computers refurbished for cash-strapped new owners

A Calgary non-profit association is saving Victorians’ old computers from recycling bins and refurbishing them for people who could not otherwise afford them.

“In B.C., good computers end up at the Bottle Depot, going to melting companies. It’s a total waste,” said Bojan Paduh, director of the Electronic Recycling Association. “With child poverty rates so high, why not see usable computers go to someone that needs them?”

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Paduh’s company collects used computers donated in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and Victoria and retrofits them with upgraded operating systems.

Currently, Victoria donations are picked up upon request, but Paduh said a permanent drop-off location is in the works.

Some of the computers are sold — the million-dollar operation employs about 25 people.

Most donated computers and laptops are given back to the communities at the request of charities, non-profits and needy individuals who ask for them.

In Victoria, this has included three computers and three laptops given to World Fisheries Trust, a laptop given to the Burnside-Gorge Community Centre and four computers given to the Threshold Housing Society — all in the past year.

Tara Skobel, co-ordinator of the Safe Housing for Youth program at Threshold, said their computers are being used by youth doing school work, seeking employment and using social media.

“Could you imagine having to write a school paper and not having access to a computer or needing to send a resumé but you couldn’t because you don’t have a computer?” Skobel said.

“The ERA has helped us provide these youth with laptops and this has helped them move forward with their goals.”

Paduh was 14 years old when his family came to Canada from war-torn Yugoslavia. They were very poor and couldn’t afford a computer, so a local church gave them one.

“It helped me so much, it changed my life,” Paduh said.

A few years later, he and his brother were scavenging computer parts in a landfill and the idea for ERA was born.

He said the majority of computers he collects from schools, companies and government departments are working and often fairly new.

“Someone could be using them,” he said, adding data is erased and any unusable e-waste properly destroyed.

B.C. has a regulated recycling program administered by Encorp Pacific and supported by an environmental handling fee, charged on new electronics.

It does not provide a re-use service but does offer guidelines for anyone interested in using a third-party service at return-it.ca.

To donate or request a computer from ERA, go to the website era.ca.

spetrescu@timescolonist.com

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