Episode 121: Tech ReUse Panel Discussion with Rob Zopf and Ross Brouse
GreenTalk Radio Host Sean Daily holds a panel discussion about reducing eWaste through equipment donations and the challenges this poses to businesses with Rob Zopf, Vice President of the National Cristina Foundation, and Ross Brouse, CEO of Solar VPS.
Sean Daily: Hi and welcome to “Green Talk” a podcast series from greenlivingideas.com. “Green Talk” helps listeners in their efforts to lead more ecofriendly lifestyles through interviews with top vendors, authors, and experts from around the world. We discuss the critical issues facing the global environment today as well as the technologies products and practices that you can employ to go greener in every area of your life.
Hey everyone, welcome to “Green Talk Radio”. This is Sean Daily. I am excited today to be doing our first panel discussion on “Green Talk”. We’re going to be talking today on the topic of technology e-waste and reuse and technology recycling. I am going to have two guests on the program today to discuss that topic with me.
The first is Rob Zapf, who is the vice president of operations for the National Cristina Foundation where he is responsible for monitoring the placement process for computer equipment. The Cristina Foundation is involved in helping businesses and other organizations find new homes for their old equipment.
Rob welcome to the program.
Rob Zopf: Hi Sean. Glad to be here.
Sean Daily: Well, it’s good to have you. And it’s certainly exciting to start with our new format on a topic that is very important and something that I think that everyone either need to know about or many people already no about, which is this problem of e-waste and where the old technology junk goes or not necessarily junk, but even the, I think, viable equipment. Where does this stuff go? And how is this causing a problem in terms of land fill and sort of junking up the environment, as it were?
So why don’t we start, before we even jump into that and the specifics of the problem, why don’t you just tell us about the National Cristina Foundation itself: how it got started; what you do.
Rob Zopf: Happy to Sean. The National Cristina Foundation for more than 20 years has been matching donations of used equipment to charities and schools to provide training to people with special needs. And the organization began as far back as 1983 when our cofounder and current president Yvette Marrin was a special education teacher in Yonkers New York.
And she had a classroom of kids who in many cases had difficulty holding a pen. They had difficulty writing. And they had to have paraprofessionals in the room to try and help them keep up. But she began to see these nice new personal computers that were coming out at that time and she thought, geez, I think these kids could really do a lot more because they could access the keyboard a lot easier then they might be able to hold a pen.
And so she sent out some appeals to try and get a computer and one young ladies father- the young girls name was Cristina- offered to sponsor a computer for the class. And when they brought the computer into the class and the kids began to interact with it the results became much more than had been anticipated. Sure they were able to do more schoolwork, but it also gave the kids a much greater sense of self worth. It gave them a sense of being able to have a viable future and along with education it gave them hope.
And Cristina’s father Bruce McMan, and at that, decided that it would be a great thing to try and bring that experience to other communities.
Right around that same time, Bruce , who is a business man, had bought a computer. That business wound up being sold and he was able to resell that computer mainframe for pennies on the dollar. And a light bulb went off. Sort of an “ah ha” moment, as he and Yvette put it, that this was going to keep happening to people over and over again. It was going to be new faster better technology around every corner and a lot of the used equipment might be useful in providing training to people with special needs, students in schools, and charities.
So they formed the foundation “The National Cristina Foundation” in honor of his daughter Cristina and for more than 20 years we’ve been supporting the youth with computer equipment around the country and around the world.
Sean Daily: Fascinating! So now tell me a little bit about both sides of it. I am curious, the typical profile of a company that is donating equipment to you for reuse, as well as, the typical recipient. You mentioned schools. Is it just schools or other types of organizations as well?
Rob Zopf: No. Our partner network is composed of schools, many many many nonprofit organizations that are devoted to training, either computer training or job skill training, or providing support to people with special needs or disabilities and we also work with some public agencies that work to provide training to people in need.
Sean Daily: Ok. Alright. Great.
Rob Zopf: And the profile of our donors varies very widely. It could be people like yourself, just an individual who happens to have an extra computer at home. It could be a small business or it could even be a large major corporation that is looking to having a good outcome come from the equipment that they’re needing to dispose of.
Sean Daily: And how are you guys getting the word out about the existence of your organization and what you do? I mean, other than this podcast. Obviously, that is one of the things, but what are some of the other things that you do?
Rob Zopf: Well, we certainly try to use the internet as much as we can to get the word out. Our own website, thankfully, gets lots of visits every day. Lots of other websites that talk about reuse and recycling mention our site. You know, if you Google the phrase ‘donate used computers’ we’ll, thankfully, come up on the first page; as well as lots of other phrases that people might use in that regard.
We’re also fortunate to, for more than a decade, been the official pacific outreach organization of “The Computer Technology Industry Association”. So they’ve been very helpful in getting the word out to their members.
It’s also more than 20 years of attending all kinds of trade events and conferences from the more mundane events like a conference called “E-Scrape” to big national events like “CES” and –when context was a going concern- events like that.
So we will do whatever we can to get the word out.
Sean Daily: Ok. And is it true that…I would imagine that for most organizations the biggest challenge is the amount of money required to really reach the masses and get the message out. I think that is every…whether you are a nonprofit or for profit corporation, an organization of any kind, whether your Barrack Obama or John McCain’s campaign or whoever you are it’s getting the word out about what you do. Is that your biggest challenge; is the monetary side of it? And monetizing the business and then turning that back around into a communications message?
Rob Zopf: Well, you know, we’re actually fortunate that: 1) we’ve had the sponsorship of Bruce McMan and some very generous supporters over the years, but they also created a very efficient model. I mean, to use a sort of common techie phrase now “virtual”. We are, basically, running a virtual warehouse. People can come to our site and make donations online. There’s a very easy online donation form.
And then our data base has collected applications from thousands of charities and school around the country. And our homegrown data base- we have an amazing IT staff- has put together a system that can help use Google mapping technology to map the donor to a location that we can then offer it to a part of our network near them.
So we’re not running a factory. We’re not operating forklifts. There’s a fairly small staff and not a terribly big office to have to keep the lights on in.
So the methodology has always been to help train local groups in how to make good use of donated equipment and even in how to find good donated equipment in their own communities so that it greatly reduces the overhead and I suppose it also reduces our carbon burning too; as long as we are talking about environmental issues.
Sean Daily: It’s funny. We were talking about a virtualization. That certainly makes a lot of sense for you guys to leverage technology in virtualization to be able to create those, sort of, point to point connections between a donor and a recipient. So that’s all very cool.
But it’s also interesting because actually our second guest on the program, who will be joining us shortly, is an expert on virtualization technology. So that will be interesting to see what that sparks to the discussion.
We are going to take a break right here on “Green Talk Radio” and then we will be right back. We have a panel discussion today on technology e-waste and e-waste reuse and recycling. MY guest right now is Rob Zopf who it the vice president of operations for “The National Cristina Foundation”. You can find them online at www.Cristina.org and that is Cristina (C-R-I-S-T-I-N-A).
We’ll be right back on “Green Talk”.
Sean Daily: Hey everyone this is Sean daily. We are back on “Green Talk Radio”. Thanks again for joining us today. We’re talking on technology reuse. We’re having a panel discussion. My first panel guest today is Rob Zopf who is with “The National Cristina Foundation”.
And Rob we we’re talking before about, sort of, getting the word out about the fact that these organizations and companies have a place where they can, actually, put this equipment that no longer has use to them. I am curious. - Taking a step back for a second. - How big is this problem of technology e-waste in the US? We could just, sort of, limit the conversation to the US. Can you tell us about the amount that is going into land fills and such, and how big this problem is?
Rob Zopf: Well, sure. It’s a huge problem Sean and it’s a growing problem because as we buy more and more faster and faster cooler and cooler commodities, be it iPods, cell phones, computers, notebooke, PDAs; we still need to do something with all of the stuff that we had previously. There are estimates that more than a hundred thousand personal computers are in need of disposal each day in the United States. That is a staggering number. And in 2005 the EPA estimated that as much as 2 billion pounds of e-waste may have been land filled.
No one is exactly sure how much e-waste there is because people don’t know, you know…Did you and I take that computer we bought for you four years ago and did we recycle it? Did we throw it away? Is it still sitting in our basement? So the estimates vary widely on how much might actually be available and in need of disposal, but even the lower case numbers are huge.
There is an organization called “The Computer Take Back Campaign” that estimated that if you took all of the used computers in the US and put them in one place it would form a 22 story layer that covered the entire city of Las Angeles. That, sort of, gives your west coast listeners perspective as to how big the problem is.
And it only gets worse because we love our tech stuff and we need out tech stuff.
Sean Daily: It seems like a problem that’s certainly not going away. I mean, the technology, the adoption curve, the development of new technologies, and therefore the demand for new equipment particularly in commercial originations is always going to be there. And the way to separate that is always out there. So t just seems that the pace of the development of technologies, both hardware and software- hardware being driven, of course, by software development- it seems like this is something that we really need to squarely address as a country, as a world, before this gets even more out of hand.
And that brings me to another question and a point that I hear a lot. And this is in regards to what has come up in other, sort of, waste not just around technology but this idea of reuse being far more green, if you will, and important than recycling. I think a lot of people have the sense of; well I recycle so I am green. I am done, I am good, check. You know, moving on.
And really the reusing in terms of the energy output and waste and things that reuse is important. Can you elaborate a little bit on that with regards to technology and the importance of that?
Rob Zopf: I would be happy to.
It’s true. People who say that are half right because all e-waste at some point needs to be properly disposed of and recycled. But the problem is that a lot of people hear about recycling and what they think the best choice for the environment is is to take their three or four year old computer that they no longer need and have it recycled. And when you do that your wasting a lot of the natural resources that went into it. Your wasting a lot of the energy that went into creating it.
I have seen estimates that if you use a computer and a monitor, let’s say instead of just recycle at the end of three or four years you reuse it for another three of four years: you’re saving 32 tons of air pollution; you’re saving 30 pounds of waste; you’re saving like 7,000 total watts of electricity.
I also saw a statistic last week that said that if a company reuses a hundred PCs instead of recycling them, that is the equivalent of taking 48 cars off the road for a year. So there is some real carbon footprint benefits to getting all of the use out of a computer that you can. And whether it’s an organization like the National Cristina Foundation or a school or another charity who’s taking computers and giving them a second life to help others it’s a huge win win not just for the charity or the school that’s reusing the computer but it’s a real win for the environment.
Sean Daily: Absolutely! And to that point I would like to, actually, get a little bit more information for our listeners out there who may be representing organizations, companies, or even just for their own home situation, find out a little bit more about how they can donate.
But first we are going to take a quick break. And we’ll be right back on “Green Talk Radio”. We’re having a panel discussion today with Rob Zopf on technology reuse and we will be joined later by Ross Brouse from Solar VPS. And we’ll be right back on “Green Talk Radio”.
Sean Daily: Ok, everybody. We’re back on “Green Talk Radio” talking on technology reuse. We are having a panel discussion today. My guest right now is Rob Zopf of “The National Cristina Foundation”.
Rob, you know, we were talking before the break. I mentioned that I wanted to give an opportunity to listeners to know how they can donate their old technology equipment to Nation Cristina and possibly to other outlets.
But before we do that, I think one thing that we haven’t struck upon yet that’s an important topic of discussion… We’ve talked about space consumption of the technology waste, but what about the dangers that exist with this stuff going into the landfills. What are the dangers? What is being released into the soil? What is the problem there?
Rob Zopf: Well, you’re computer or your monitor, whatever, obviously, has been made out of various minerals and chemicals, so there’s a significant quantity of lead in all but the very newest of equipment, mercury, cadmium. The plastics that most computers are made out of have been filled with something called brominated flame retardant. The good news there is that you don’t want your computer to be catching on fire. The idea of having plastic flam retardant seems like a good idea, but they breakdown into some pretty carcinogenic things.
Now all of this stuff is perfectly safe when it is sitting on your desk, but if you put it in a landfill you break it up and all of that lead, mercury, cadmium, and everything else can work its way down into the land fill and, depending on where the landfill is, perhaps into ground water and out into the general population.
Sean Daily: Ok. So I am curious about going to offering people an opportunity to figure out how they can donate with regards to “The National Cristina Foundation”. This is kind of a two part question. How can people contact you to donate equipment and what types of equipment do you still consider viable for them donating, so they’re not giving you junk that no school can use and so forth?
Rob Zopf: Well, all any of your listeners have to do whether they’re an individual user or a small business or a corporation is they can go to our website www.cristina.org. No “H” in Christina. And we have a very easy to use online donation form as well as lot’s of explanation of our process. If it’s a company that’s calling and they already have the information on a spreadsheet or a word document that donation form gives them the option to upload that to it and then it will come right into our database and our staff will begin to try and match that to charities and schools in their location.
And currently we can find homes for Pentium III and Pentium IV equipment and there AMD and Macintosh equivalents…
Sean Daily: Ok.
Rob Zopf: …as well as for monitors, printers, scanners, and digital cameras, and other peripherals that people might have along with their computers.
Sean Daily: Great! That’s good information. I appreciate you sharing it. I also curious too; do you have any other tips or information for listeners out there about other avenues or suggestions about technology reuse outside of National Cristina, other things that they need to be thinking about or avenues for reusing old technology?
Rob Zopf: Well, ETA has information online at their plug-in to recycling section. There are some other good organizations called “earth911.org”. The Electronic Industry Alliance has information about recycling and reuse, which is eiae.org. EBay has a rethink initiative that can help people decide with what to do with used equipment. So there is lot’s of information out there and they can certainly also check our site for updated information.
Sean Daily: Ok. Wonderful!
Well, we’re going to take a break right there. This is our last break and then we are going to be back with our second panelist who is Ross Brouse. He is the president and CEO of Solar VPS and Solar VTG. And we are bringing them on the program because they are a major user of technology being a web hosting company that deals with private servers and other web hosting platforms. They use a lot of equipment. They’re, sort of,
a representative and example of a company that generates this type of equipment that goes through its life cycle and he can, sort of, represent that view point. So we will be back with Ross right after this break on “Green Talk Radio”.
Sean Daily: Hey everyone, welcome back to “Green Talk Radio”. We’re doing a panel discussion today on technology reuse and e-waste. And we are joined now by Ross Brouse of Solar VPS. He is the president and CEO of Solar VPS and Solar VTG.
Ross welcome to the program.
Ross Brouse: Thanks Sean.
Sean Daily: So we’ve been talking and I’ve been talking with Rob from “The National Cristina Foundation”. I wanted to get your perspective. You’ve been a guest on this show before talking about, sort of, green web hosting and things like that. And I know that you and I had had an off line discussion about just the frustrations that exist as a business that is out there who wants to do these things like, you know, reuse technology be a greener company, but it’s, kind of, hard to get the information to know exactly where to go.
And you were just telling me about some of your experience with it in terms of the generation of equipment that happens in a typical company such as your own company. So why don’t we just start there. Tell me about…approximately how many computers or servers does your company power up each year and how many of those are decommissioned on a yearly basis?
Ross Brouse: Well we work in virtual private servers, which is essentially a smaller virtual server that would host a website or email running inside a larger physical machine that’s got processors and ram and what not inside of it. And we put approximately about 50 physical machines online each year that power across those 50 machines more than a thousand smaller virtual machines. So that process in itself is very green because it promotes people getting that same work done through virtualization.
But I would say in an average year we probably have anywhere from 10 to 30 of those physical machines that are being reused and probably another 10 to 30 that are decommissioned. We have multiple product lifecycles that we work in. So that first life cycle would be for one of our higher end products flash services. And then I would say 18 to 24 month, and sometimes a little bit longer, we actually decommission that and reuse it for another product life cycle.
But eventually these machines get to the point where they are just no longer viable for us. None of our services will run on these machines and we need to do something with them.
Sean Daily: I see. Correct me if I am wrong here but I am assuming that do to the competitiveness of the web hosting industry that these machines that you guys are decommissioning are perfectly viable for, not only school, but even for other organizations that are commercial ventures and such. Is that accurate?
Ross Brouse: Oh yeah, more than viable. In fact, not only are they viable as teaching tools, but they’re probably viable for actual in house IT departments for schools and non profits, and things like that. A file server, for example, they would be great for file servers to go for probably several years beyond when we decommission them, as well as many other uses.
So yeah I definitely think there’s many ways that these machines could still be used after we are done with them. Like I said we reuse them several times over, but I still don’t think they’re completely outdated at that time for certain use. So, yes, that is very true. They can be reused by other organization.
Sean Daily: Right. It would really, I guess, have to do with just the needs. I guess there are many strata of different organizations out there from if we take like elementary school and stuff and sort of put them at the bottom and then work our way up. I know that we have a home school co-op that we run and we’ve been able to, you know, take some of the equipment that I think most people consider non useable, but it does have use in that type of a classroom. And then, maybe, sort of going up from there up to the high school level where they actually do need decent equipment for it to be viable for students to actually learn something relevant and current and then moving past that into non profit organizations and people like that.
So I guess it would be useful for someone to develop some sort of a database of representative equipment in each of these strata so that people know sort of how to match it up.
Rob it that something that you guys provide at “National Cristina” or you’ve seen before or is that part of the database that you have.
Rob Zopf: Yeah, what we’ve done is we’ve asked all of the charities and school that we work with to complete and in-depth application that tells us what kind of training programs that you’re running as well as software or your technical needs, how much, where, what, all of that information, so that when someone comes to us like Ross and said, “Hey, I’ve got these ten machines. What can you guys do with them?” We can look in our database and find groups and contact groups in New Jersey or where ever else the equipment might be and see if it is useful to them based on what they’ve previously told us: things that you will eventually need; what kind of products are you running; are you running classrooms that would benefit from having a server in each classroom so that you’re feeding information to the workstations; or as Sean said file servers, mail servers; whatever various uses people might have.
So, yeah, that’s where we try and take the guess work out of it for a corporation like Solar VPS. Ross probably doesn’t have the resources to start calling every school and charity in his location to see if they need the five servers he took off line last month. If he comes to us, we’ve got the setup to contact where we don’t need technology to see if it can meet their needs in his local area.
Sean Daily: Now that brings up a good question. Ross I’ll put this back to you. How easy, in your experience, has it been to find an e-waste recycling program or company?
Ross Brouse: Well, you know, there’s always Google and we can find just about anything through Google. But what, I think, would be really beneficial for companies like mine, is to, sort of, be solicited, I guess, by some of these businesses like the Cristina Foundation, that could help us place this equipment because it’s definitely something that I am very interested in. I mean, we have an active green program at Solar VPS, but in talking with many of my colleagues throughout the business that run there own companies a lot them don’t have green programs but are very interested in placing there equipment with an educational, you know, with a school, with a non profit organization, and donating it to make sure that it gets reused and not just ends up in some landfill somewhere.
So I think it would be really wonderful to have a lot of these companies actually come find us and say, “Hey, listen. We would love to work with you and, maybe, get you to donate some of your equipment.” It’s a tax write off. It’s, obviously… We get into this whole thing of- I don’t know if you’ve heard the term, but- carbon debt when we are talking about cutting carbon. And it’s much better. This is the whole idea of reuse before recycle.
It’s much better to reuse something before you recycle it and, obviously, much better to reuse rather than just buying a new machine. A lot of these schools would , obviously, benefit immensely from having this type of equipment donated and it saves on the carbon simply because you don’t go and buy a new machine that has to go through the manufacturing and you have to produce all these parts, and build it, and ship it. You’ve already got this machine that has been used so many times and it’s still viable. It can be donated.
So having companies actually directly solicit IT businesses like mine would be hugely beneficial.
I, of course, came into contact with “The Cristina Foundation” by way of Green Living Ideas. And I think that is going to be, hopefully, a great relationship going forward. But, yeah, I would love to see more of that.
Sean Daily: Yeah, that’s great. And we talked about that, the importance of the reuse verses the recycle issue. It is interesting it seems that the gap is; you’ve got an organization like National Cristina that is doing this great work, but is relying on the money as any non profit and it’s going to be limited on that front. And then you’ve got different levels of, let’s just say, motivation and greenness or awareness in organizations out there where smaller businesses are going to be less likely, for example, to take great pains to, maybe, go out and find a program, particularly, if it’s not heavily marketed and available.
Where as, perhaps, an organization that it’s more part of their mission statement or there is a higher level of awareness may take the time to do the extensive Google searching or if they are in an area, for example, that doesn’t have anything physically accessible that they would go out of the way, as it were, to try to find these types of outlets.
And I know that this varies from area to area in the country. I mean, some areas there is literally a local center. You can take equipment down and reuse it or recycle it. And then there are other places where it’s like, “Huh, what are you talking about.” You know, it’s not even on the radar screen yet.
So that really seems to be the gap that we collectively need to bridge.
Before we go today I’m curious about if either of my panelist have any other additional ideas on how we might bridge that gap a little more. Rob do you have any other ideas on that?
Rob Zopf: Well, yeah. I think that both through programs like “Green Living Ideas” and the rest of the green movement companies that are sitting with machines know that their supposed to do something proper with them. They may not always be sure exactly what, but more and more legislation is going to require that they find good green options. And, I think, it just behooves business owners to do that sort of investigating.
I mean, we’re happy to do a lot of the leg work to match things up locally if they contact us or some of the websites that I’ve mentioned earlier for other possible options. I also know that within hundreds and hundreds, maybe, thousands of communities around the country there are active local reuse programs may of whom are probably calling the businesses in their area saying, “Hey, we know that you guys are involved in technology. What do you do with your old equipment?”
But there’s no need for a business to wait for that. Either go to us or others that are available online. Do some research. Find out what the proper thing to do is. Find out what your options are. And do what’s right.
Sean Daily: Yeah, absolutely. And for anyone who is listening today and has equipment, whether it is personal or a business and you have equipment that you would like to reuse, please certainly check out “The National Cristina Foundation” at cristina.org (C-R-I-S-T-I-N-A) dot org.
And if you are a business that’s interesting in virtual hosting- Ross was talking earlier about the inherent greenness of using virtual private servers, that type of technology- if you’re interested in that please check out their website at solarvps.com for green hosting. Ross is heavily involved, I know, it that virtual computing arena.
And before we sign off today I also want to mention to everyone listening in that if you are interested in today’s topic you many also want to check out the following additional resources that are available on the greenlivingideas.com website, “Green Talk Radio: Episode 108”, where I discuss the concept of green hosting with Ross Brouse of Solar VPS who’s on with us today.
And then also the tech e-waste reuse and also the tech e-waste recycling topic blogs on the greenlivin.com site, as well as, the articles and podcasts and tips you’ll find on there and that is found under the topics technology menu.
Lastly, I wanted to mention that we were very inspired by what National Cristina is doing and we’re going to be offering them a complimentary sponsorship on this site. So there’s going to be lots of mentions and clicks and links and such for Cristina on the greenlivingideas.com website. We are happy to be doing that and happy to be partnering with you to get the word out on this topic.
Rob Zopf: Well, thanks so much Sean. We know that you’ve got an audience that’s very interested in making the environment a cleaner and safer place and that’s a population we always welcome knowing more about us.
Sean Daily: Yeah, absolutely.
Well, I want to thank everyone who is listening in today for joining us and for your support of “Green Talk Radio”.
I want to remind everybody to please consider providing ratings and comments on the “Green Talk Radio” program on the iTunes page for the show, which you can find, its accessible, on the greenlivingideas.com website or the environment topic page of the Apple iTunes podcast store.
I also want to thank again both my panel guests today Robb Zopf of the “National Cristina Foundation” online at www.cristina.org – no H in Cristina- and Ross Brouse of Solar VPS and Solar VTG whom you can find online at www.solarvps.com. Thank you gentlemen.
Thanks as always to everyone listening in today.
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