When volunteers at the Human-centered Computing Lab in the Guttenberg Information Technologies Center began to pack up equipment to relocate to a smaller space, they found themselves with an abundance of technology they were forced to leave behind.
“Someone told us to trash it,” said Danielle Tavella ’17, a human-computer interaction major from Long Island.
The heap of displaced equipment included roughly 20 flat-screen monitors, five towers, three servers, keyboards, mice, connectors and cables.
“The idea of tossing that stuff in the trash broke my heart,” said Tavella, who’s set to graduate from NJIT in December. She hopes to land a job as a user experience designer at a startup company.
“I was like, ‘No, let’s not trash any of this.’ That’s when I decided to find a nonprofit that we could donate to.”
A quick Google search led Tavella to Electronic Access Foundation (EAF), a local, nonprofit organization that donates surplus equipment to other qualified charitable organizations in need.
“They were great,” said Tavella of the foundation, which was founded in 2011 and offers certified secure data sanitation services, and tax breaks to donors, and will pick up and drop off equipment in the Tri-state area. “In the past, when we’ve donated equipment, we had to box it, take it to the post office — it was a whole production. Working with EAF was super-easy. We packed up everything, and then they came with a van to pick it up with no problem.”
“We were excited when Danielle reached out to us to say that she had monitors that were going to be thrown out, and that she wanted to see them go to good use,” said Greg Campbell, a volunteer at EAF. “We solicit viable computers in the 4-to-5-year-old age range, so we’re always happy to connect with schools because we know they refresh their equipment in a timely manner.”
After collecting the equipment from NJIT, EAF’s volunteer team, which includes several Morristown High School students with an interest in STEM, wiped all the data from the hard drives, installed the latest Windows operating system and donated the secondhand equipment to Central Presbyterian Church in Summit, where children from Elizabeth, Springfield and New Providence used the computers and monitors to participate in a Python boot camp.
“We had such a good week,” recalled Nick Cohron, who ran the coding workshop.
The program culminated with a pizza party during which Cohron shared some big news with the young coders in training: They could take the computers home.
“And [we] had some fun with it Oprah style. You get a computer, and you get a computer, and you get a computer,” he said, referring to the iconic television moment when Oprah Winfrey gave away cars to her studio audience. “They loved it; had no idea it was coming. [It was] really a nice moment to be able to do that, and we thank our friends at EAF for making that possible.”
This gesture of goodwill comes as the gap between the digital haves and have-nots continues to widen in the United States.
Reportedly, 16 percent of U.S. households are without a desktop or laptop computer, and 36 percent of U.S. households with income under $50,000 don’t have access to a computer — yet seven in 10 teachers assign homework requiring computer and internet access.
And then there is the subject of electronic waste, which Tavella called “a huge problem.”
Although the U.S. regulates the recycling of e-waste, of the $206 billion spent on consumer electronics in the U.S. in 2012, only 20 percent of the e-waste generated was recycled, according to electronicstakeback.com.
And mounting landfills are just the tip of the iceberg.
It’s not uncommon, particularly in underdeveloped countries, to burn and bathe circuit boards in acid to smelt gold and other precious metals, releasing hazardous materials into the environment.
Tavella encourages her fellow Highlanders to think twice before disposing of their electronic gadgets, and to consider useful, eco-friendly alternatives, like contributing unwanted computers to nonprofits, charities, low-income families and veteran organizations.
“There are so many disadvantaged people in need of computer equipment,” said Tavella. “You just have to look. It didn’t take that long for me to get in contact with EAF. It can be done.”