Rural Minnesota County Gives Its Discarded Electronics a Second Chance

This story was originally released by Pioneer PBS.

The problem is truly two sides of the exact same laptop or computer disc. On one particular facet, there’s been an discovered have to have for reasonably priced computers in Lyon County. On the other aspect, Lyon County as a landfill county is hoping to figure out how to lessen its e-waste footprint.

Lyon County, positioned in rural southwest Minnesota, has a population of 25,269, in accordance to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We’ve been diverting digital waste from landfilling for lots of several years,” explained Roger Schroeder, the environmental administrator for Lyon County. Digital squander or e-squander incorporates items like VCRs, DVDs, TVs, and personal computers. Schroeder explained that the county has been a assortment position for e-squander since 2009 for the reason that, in 2006, Minnesota legislation essential that nearly anything with a cathode-ray tube, like televisions and computer system displays, be recycled. 

Years back, Schroeder was approached by an unique who wanted to start off an e-squander recycling application, but imagined that Lyon County was not in a posture to do that. Obstructions like particular data and method prices were being to start with on Schroeder’s thoughts. “And that’s in which the county board stepped in, and commissioner Sanow reported, you know, this is perhaps not one thing which is likely to make us cash, but it’s the right matter to do,” stated Schroeder.

“I assumed, what if we mounted up the previous computers and gave it to the people that had a need for their children,” said Lyon County Commissioner Charles Sanow. “The children would have computer systems, this male would have function, we’d get the things out of the landfill, we wouldn’t have to fork out for it having processed somewhere else.”

“The hurdles that I noticed that prevented us from allowing for pcs to be recycled, the county board was supportive of hoping to overcome those obstacles,” explained Schroeder. “And all of a sudden we ended up refurbishing personal computers and finding them back again out into the local community.”

In 2018 ResQZone was up and running. ResQZone is a partnership concerning Lyon County and Advance Possibilities. The county contracts with Progress — also positioned in Marshall (inhabitants 13,651 and the biggest city in Lyon County) — to offer the staff human being who does the refurbishing. Progress covers points like insurance coverage, workers compensation, work coaching, whatever support the worker might have to have.

“Advance is a position for individuals with disabilities, but I like to believe of them as people with special skills,” mentioned Elizabeth Schear, CEO of Progress Opportunities. “What we do on a everyday basis is seem for means that we can come across the proper specialized niche for a individual to fulfill their expertise and qualities and needs with the great task or the finest job that they like. Progress bought begun with the ResQZone as a assist for the particular person who started out the ResQZone, the brains guiding the task.”

That is Jason Redepenning. “I’m the personal computer guy below. A person of the persons who was aiding me, they questioned me what I would want to do, a person of these minor dream issues. “What would you wanna do for the rest of your lifetime for function?” And I explained to them I preferred to just resolve computers and give them to folks.”

Redepenning, who has Autism and ADHD, is a person who thrives performing among the servers and screens and has generally experienced innate drive to help people. ResQZone is a harmless spot for Redepenning to do both of these things. Redepenning performs 3 times for every 7 days and will get compensated as a result of the county, which will get some dollars from reselling larger-conclude computer systems and tablets. 

Kylie Peterson works for Advance and is Redepenning’s direct support specialist. “So I just help out with whatever he desires though he is out right here,” she mentioned.

Their refurbishing method goes something like this: the merchandise is donated, occasionally a single product at a time, and “sometimes firms will come in and they’ll just give the complete pallet of them,” explained Redepenning. “A major pile of them and then we’ll have to go as a result of them. Turkey Valley gave us some and we’re going through them now. [We] locate the kinds that have way too numerous turkey feathers in them, we throw these way. Kylie receives sort of grossed out with the Turkey feather ones.”

“Who wouldn’t?” Peterson explained with a chortle.

Then Redepenning and Peterson acquire stock and cleanse the products, Turkey feathers and all. “And then I start heading as a result of it and see that all the components are there. And then we wipe it,” said Redepenning. They get rid of all private info and then the computer will get imaged applying a server.

“The Server is fundamentally a dedicated laptop. This focused computer system does 1 occupation and a person position only, and it holds these data files named photographs on it,” reported Redpenning, going as a result of his approach. “Those pictures are not like photographs, like photos, these are complete personal computers previously finished in one particular minor file. And what that laptop does is when we hook up other computers to the community, we can spit out Windows 10 or whatsoever to all all those pcs.”

“Our local personal computer tech assistance, Computers and Over and above, they’ve been helping us with some of the larger-finish concerns that we have come into,” said Schroeder. “They served Jason develop a server so that he can get many devices uploaded with the ideal software package at a single time.”

Then it goes on the shelf ready for its new daily life of web surfing and computing. 

Among 2014 and 2018, Lyon County dropped from 17,692 kilos of e-squander recycling to 2,132. Schroeder claimed that consciousness of ResQZone has greater the whole quantity of electronics they get, about fifty percent of which are previous techniques that ResQZone can not use. This has enhanced their e-squander recycling output about the past 3 a long time. In the past a few yrs, ResQZone has gotten 420 personal computer devices again out into general public use and fifty percent of all those ended up provided out in the earlier calendar year as Lyon County discovered extra want in space faculties, specially with Covid-19.

“We set up the structure so that it’s requires-centered, working via, to begin with, United Community Motion and Southwest Middle for Unbiased Dwelling and some of individuals other service companies,” reported Schroeder. “Then when the pandemic hit, we considered, ‘well, we require to expand this to educational facilities, if they have a require.” 

Schroeder claimed that the county distributes computer systems this way mainly because they want to know people’s fiscal information and facts. “So what we set it up as, if you have a baby that receives absolutely free and minimized lunches, if you are a veteran, if you’re anyone who receives expert services from one of these other businesses that is income-based mostly, then we do just will need acceptance that you’re acquiring people products and services, and that qualifies you,” Schroeder described. “So that way we’re not asking for comprehensive personalized information on any person, because that’s currently remaining finished by a different organization.” 

When this project took some more-human bandwidth, Roger Schroeder thinks that now that they’ve worked by means of the bugs, this could be a plug-and-engage in operation. “As prolonged as you can discover the suitable team individual that’s able to refurbish the device, it can work, our room, our footprint is incredibly little. We’re now accumulating the machines. So I imagine it would be easy to replicate all over the state,” he explained.