EchoWorks: An Electronics Recycling Community Partnership

Western Dakota Technical College

Date Posted: May 15, 2020
Submitted by: Kelsey Murray
Sustainability Topics: Curriculum, Public Engagement, Waste
Content Type: Case Studies

Project Overview

EchoWorks is a social enterprise that recycles electronic waste and employs people with disabilities. Located on the campus of Western Dakota Tech, a community college in Rapid City, South Dakota, EchoWorks provides an integrated work environment for people with disabilities, while also utilizing students from key programs on campus, including Environmental Engineering, Electrical Trades, and Truck Driving.

Background

EchoWorks, a division of Black Hills Works, is a social enterprise that recycles electronic waste and employs people with disabilities. Located on the campus of Western Dakota Tech, a technical college in Rapid City, South Dakota, EchoWorks provides an integrated work environment for people with disabilities, while also utilizing students in key aspects of the program.

Our eRecycling facility is a member of CyclePoint with SourceAmerica. CyclePoint is an eRecycling network that offers communities convenient, safe and secure electronics disposal.

Electronic waste is the fastest growing segment of municipal waste in the world. Nearly 75% of old electronics continues to be stored in households because of the unavailability of convenient recycling options. By law, the Rapid City landfill cannot accept electronics, even to hold for EchoWorks, so citizens are left with few options for disposal or recycling. The lack of options can contribute to improper disposal of e-waste, where the more than 1,000 toxic substances associated with e-waste can lead to soil, water, food and air contamination.

Echo Works offers electronic recycling services to the public and business community through their partnership with Western Dakota Tech, western South Dakota's only technical college. The goal is to re-purpose obsolete and unused electronics and to discard data in a confidential and secure manner. In this way, we contribute to environmental health, create sustainable jobs for people with disabilities, and contribute to the technical workforce development of the region.

Western Dakota Tech has a history of Sustainability projects led by the Environmental Engineering Program Director, including an on-campus apiary (approximately 40 hives) and associated community-education courses and an annual conference, National Science Foundation-Award winning aquaponics projects, a geothermal greenhouse project, on campus and community recycling efforts (plastics, metals, paper, Christmas lights), Black Hills Winter Farmer's Market partnership, annual City of Rapid City Earth Day Expo and Plug-In America events, and advising a student club, the Environmental Action Team.

Goals

  1. To create sustainable jobs for people with disabilities
  2. To contribute to technical workforce development through training of Environmental Engineering Technicians, Electrical Trades Technicians, and Truck Drivers
  3. To raise awareness of recycling and inform residents on what and how they can recycle
  4. To divert electronics from local landfills
  5. To promote environmental stewardship
  6. To maintain data confidentiality
  7. To form partnerships and build community support

Implementation

Initially launched several years ago, the program was not sustainable at that time primarily due to the cost of transporting of electronic waste to an out-of-state recycling facility, the closest such facility to Rapid City. A September 2019 grant from the Black Hills Area Community Foundation and a new operational collaboration with Western Dakota Tech, provided an opportunity to relaunch EchoWorks. Western Dakota Tech students now assist, as part of their curriculum and at no cost to Black Hills Works, in various aspects of the program. Already, Western Dakota Tech Environmental Engineering Technician students have assisted in researching data points to use in communications and in marketing efforts, such as public service announcements. In addition, Electrical Trade students are preparing to research how ancillary material, such as the plastics in most electronics can be repurposed to further enhance the overall environmental impact of EchoWorks. Most impactful will be the support of Western Dakota Tech trucking students who will gain valuable experience hauling the e-waste across state lines and save Black Hills Works considerable operational costs.

Currently, 26 states have regulations focused on responsible e-waste disposal. Because of this regulatory pressure, we expect more states to adopt responsible recycling practices which will support our goal to increase e-waste recycling in SD and reduce dangerous electronics in landfills.

Unwanted electronics are processed and separated into raw materials, which we can divert from landfills and re-purpose toward the manufacture of new products.

Collection and transportation are two of the initial stages of the recycling process. As recyclers, we place collection bins or electronic take-back booths in specific locations and transport the collected e-waste from these sites to EchoWorks recycling facility.

After collection and transportation to EchoWorks, materials in the e-waste stream are processed and separated into clean commodities. Efficient separation of materials is the foundation of electronics recycling. The shredding of e-waste items and sorting/separation of plastics from metals and internal circuitry ensures further shredding into pieces as small as 100 mm to prepare for further sorting. This advanced separation technology locates and extracts any remaining metal remnants from the plastics to prepare it for sale as usable raw materials for the production of new electronics.

EchoWorks is certified through Recycling Industry Operating Standards (RIOS) to destroy confidential electronic information, and holds one of only two certifications in the entire state of South Dakota.

EchoWorks and WDT are partnering with the City of Rapid City to set new policy regarding responsible practices that reduce the disposal of dangerous electronics in landfills. Up to 70% of heavy metals in landfills come from discarded electronics. Echo Works helps reduce the impact on the environment of electronic waste that enters landfills and contributes towards a substantial improvement in Rapid City’s recycling performance.

Black Hills Works, with the support of Western Dakota Tech, also collaborated with the Rapid City Sustainability Committee in preparation for Earth Day messaging and more widespread awareness efforts. Ultimately, we hope to partner with Rapid City to encourage competition among citizens in surrounding communities to inspire widespread e-recycling. This competition coincides with an overall goal for the program to partner with the Rapid City to set a new policy regarding responsible recycling practices that reduce the disposal of dangerous electronics in landfills. The Rapid City Chamber of Commerce recently featured EchoWorks, the value of employing people with disabilities and the importance of recycling in its inaugural issue of “Elevate Magazine.” In addition, are partnering with Pacific Steel to take the heavy metal.

EchoWorks helps reduce the impact on the environment of electronic waste that enters landfills and contributes towards a substantial improvement in Rapid City’s recycling performance.

Timeline

  • November 2015: Initial lauch of EchoWorks
  • 2017: EchoWorks put on hiatus due to lack of sustainable funding and transportation and lack of integrated workspace
  • Spring 2018: Partnership between EchoWorks and Western Dakota Tech formed
  • Fall 2019: Logistical planning, conversion of facility space to meet EchoWorks needs (installation of electrical outlets, lighting performed by Electrical Trades students), grant writing, community partnership building, time studies performed by EchoWorks, product collection, RIOS certification, MOU developed
  • Spring 2020: EchoWorks "soft opening," public awareness campaigns, social media efforts, educational events, general marketing activities, purchase and branding of semi-trailer for transportation, training of employees
  • Summer 2020: organize city-wide collection events (similar to Rapid City's Pick Up Week and Hazardous Waste Disposal events)

Financing

Start-Up costs were associated with the first iteration of EchoWorks and are unknown to the author of this award submission. All equipment was stored when EchoWorks went on hiatus and was used to re-open facilities.

Financing of the Project: Black Hills Community Foundation Grant: $50,000 South Dakota Community Foundation Grant: $10,000

WDT Match: instructor time and effort, student time and effort, transportation of commodities (time/labor, gasoline, semi), location of physical facilities for EchoWorks and operating costs, IT support, grant management, project management, marketing efforts and materials, etc.

Federal vocational support for people with disabilities

Contracts with several area businesses for eRecycling services

Commodities (charged to customers): CRT TV monitor or flat screen TV's: $40 Projection TVs or console TVs: $50 Floor copiers: $50 Printers, copies, fax machines: $5 Flat-screen monitors: $4 eWaste: $0.20 per pound Hard-drive shredding with certification of destruction: $7 Labor: $40/hour for loading materials at business Trip fee: $40 minimum Mileage: $2/mile over 25 miles

Results

Black Hills Works believes in a community where everyone achieves a life of full potential. Meaningful work is a critical component of this vision, one that provides a sense of pride and accomplishment, in addition to a needed source of income for those we support. Our employment support staff help the people we support identify their strengths and develop their skills with the goal of attaining competitive employment. Brad Saathoff, CEO of Black Hills Works, has said, “Experiencing the dignity of work is a powerful thing.”

EchoWorks is a supported employment worksite where participants are led by support staff to complete needed services on location. These training sites provide critical workforce training with the goal of preparing participants for independent community employment, to include a focus on hard and soft skills.

In EchoWorks’ initial months, focus was on building out the space and infrastructure, securing equipment, and building up an inventory of recyclable goods to be used for training EchoWorks employees. 945 pounds of electronics were collected and diverted from the landfill in just the first three months, even before EchoWorks was “soft launched” to the public on January 2, 2020. Much more was collected from business consumers and community partners after January 2, and on March 2, two people with disabilities – Blaze J. and Joey G. - started their part-time jobs at EchoWorks. The work involves disassembling electronics and sorting the components according to recycling and privacy criteria. For example, in the case of old computers, the hard drives are removed for shredding with confirmation of destruction provided to the customer. They are engaging motor and organization skills, and learning to work in an environment that is public facing. EchoWorks is located on a community college campus and the public is directed to drop off electronics at the site for collection and payment.

Joey and Blaze love their jobs. Here’s what Randy Sheppard, their supervisor says:

“I very seldom had to remind Blaze what needs to be done. He quickly learns different jobs and his attendance is very good. Once he has learned a task, you can leave him to do doing it with minimum supervision. Blaze loves his job; he gets to take things apart and use tools to do his job, such as power screw driver, hammer and even use the pallet jack.”

“Joey really enjoys taking things apart and he comes to work every day ready to work. Once his day begins, he is focused on getting what every task assigned to him completed. He is a competitive individual, always willing to try new things and complete them as quick or quicker than his co-worker.” We are seeking a third part-time employee for EchoWorks operations for the coming year.

To date, 10,351 pounds of electronics have been processed through EchoWorks!

A note about COVID-19: In Rapid City, South Dakota, businesses and education institutions have been closed since March 16, including Western Dakota Tech. As such, EchoWorks remains closed. The official public launch of EchoWorks was to include a Chamber of Commerce Ribbon Cutting on Earth Day, April 22, 2020 and participation at the 5th Annual Rapid City Earth Day Expo, hosted by the city’s Sustainability Committee on the Western Dakota Tech campus. Until such events are rescheduled, Black Hills Works is promoting EchoWorks through social media reminding Rapid Citians to set aside their old electronics until such time we can re-open.

Blaze and Joey, more than anybody, are anxious to get back to work.

Lessons Learned

Partnership, collaboration, sharing of resources, and community support is what makes this project succesful.


Authors


Images

EchoWorks in Action

EchoWorks in Action

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EchoWorks in Action

EchoWorks in Action

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EchoWorks Logo

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Western Dakota Tech Sustainability Logo

Western Dakota Tech Sustainability Logo

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