Spokane Journal of Business

Artisans opens second e-waste collection center

Nonprofit’s new facility located in East Spokane

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Artisans, a 29-year-old nonprofit organization here that provides employment services for disabled people, has opened a new e-waste collection center in East Spokane. 

A center it opened earlier and that’s located just east of downtown Spokane at 200 E. Second will continue accepting donations as well.

The new 11,000-square-foot facility, located at 4019 E. Central, includes a storefront for selling refurbished computers, an area for evaluation of incoming devices, a warehouse, and a processing area where e-waste is turned into e-scrap. 

The labor-intensive process of dismantling electronics and sorting parts is handled by Artisans’ disabled employees who work alongside other staff members, including Cindy Miller, the facility’s new safety officer. 

“Discarded electronics—pretty much anything that takes a battery or plugs into a wall—are accepted at either location or we can schedule pickup in the community within a 100-mile radius,” she says.

Kris Major, education coordinator for the city of Spokane’s Solid Waste Disposal Department, says this surge of e-waste has three primary causes. 

“Rapid technology advances, changing media platforms, and lower prices for hardware are causing us to be, more and more, a throw-away tech culture,” Major says. “While Spokane is doing a good job recycling, we can do better.” 

According to Major, the sheer volume of trash created by e-waste presents one issue for landfills. The other is the difficulty disposing of the numerous related chemicals. Electronics are made with mixed materials like plastics that contain polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, which are difficult to dispose of properly. Parts like the monitor, casing, and battery contain lead, mercury, and cadmium. Circuit boards contain precious metals like coltan, silver, palladium, and gold, which require a smelter to process. 

Miller says, “When electronic waste goes to landfills and to be burned, hazardous chemicals get into the soil, can leach into groundwater, and into the air.”

After Artisans collects and processes discarded items, they’re transported to a Salem, Ore.-based materials aggregation center operated by CyclePoint, an e-recycling division of the national nonprofit SourceAmerica.

Between January 2015 when Artisans signed with the e-recycler and August 2016, the charity has shipped about 470,600 pounds of e-scrap to CyclePoint. 

Once Spokane area e-scrap arrives at the aggregation center, it’s further broken down. Glass, copper, and steel are separated to sell domestically and to countries like China, India, and Mexico. Precious metals derived from recapture are sold on the commodities market.

Getting valuable resources from e-scrap is called urban mining, the proceeds of which, in part, help support Artisans’ client services. The charity began in 1987 helping disabled people with woodworking skills and has grown in size to become an employment development program that helps support personal growth, job training, job placement, and community integration. 

With the amount of e-waste projected in the months ahead, especially during the holiday season, Artisans anticipates hiring more disabled workers as well as support staff. Artisans currently has 29 staff members, over 70 volunteers, and serves close to 200 clients annually.

  • Chris Street

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Chris received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Texas. Previously Street wrote for Men’s Fitness, worked in the Texas oil fields, and served as a research assistant investigating banks for a private investment group. Assignments for the Journal of Business range from healthcare and technology to finance. A graduate of the United States Army Infantry School in Fort Benning, Georgia, Chris enjoys reading in his spare time. A few of his favorite authors include Pearl S. Buck, Truman Capote, Robert Sapolsky, C.J. Chivers and Tom Wainwright.

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