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E-Waste and Digital Equity with Temple CRC

Temple Sustainability is kicking off the spring semester with Stories of Sustainability: Race to Zero Waste! Our first #EcoChampion is Jonathan Latko, Director of the Temple University Computer Recycling Center. Jonathan hosted a critical discussion with students, staff, and faculty about e-waste in Philadelphia, and the institutional impact of equity and access in upcycling electronics.

#EcoChampion: Jonathan Latko

Jonathan has been with the Computer Recycling Center (CRC) for 17 years after receiving his MBA in E-Commerce from the Fox School of Business at Temple University in 2003.  Jonathan also serves as an adjunct instructor in the Fox School of Business.  He began his journey with the CRC in 2002, as the University grew larger and so did the need for more technology.

“Sustainability is a way of life based on a concept of Kaizen, balancing the triple bottom line. Leaving the planet and people we are interconnected with better off then how we found it”

Stories of Sustainability: E-Waste with #EcoChampion Jonathan Latko

The Temple CRC  is an award-winning operation that gathers surplus computer and electronic equipment from around the university to refurbish, redeploy, donate and, where appropriate, securely dispose of equipment. On average the CRC processes more than 90 tons of equipment each year. Jonathan’s work helps Temple University reach the 2050 climate goals by reducing the need to always buy new, extending the life of the resources we do have, and reducing waste ending up in landfills and incinerators.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind.

E-Waste: Discarded electrical, or electronic devices also known as Electronic Waste.

E-waste has a poor reputation of disposal and improper management. Commonly being disposed of on streets, sidewalks,  in curbside collections, its life cycle never truly ends. E-waste ends up being stored in perpetuity, sent to landfills or to an incinerator and burned. These irresponsible and illegal methods of disposal put people, especially poor communities and communities of color, at risk of the negative health impacts associated with burning electronics.

Find a home for everything at Earth 911 and
Get your waste picked up (for free)

Fast Growing E-Waste Stream.

In 2003, Jonathan asked himself: How do we treat surplus assets? What are its alternative uses? How can we get computers to those that need them?

When Jonathan arrived at Temple, Facilities would throw “old” computers into storage or work with an external waste vendor to remove them from campus.  Jonathan challenged the institution to think of these used machines, not as a nuisance or liability, but as assets. With a bit of e-waste education and a $25 equipment fee attached to each unit purchased, Jonathan got enough money and buy-in to start refurbishing these computers and redistributed them to university departments and employees at a discounted rate, or for free. Now, with a full scale surplus program in place, the CRC is able to provide equipment to students in need, and Temple facilities and departments, and centers on campus. 45% of the computers collected have been redistributed, totaling in over 20,000 computers and 14,000 monitors! 

Jonathan at the CRC.

Q: Is your research project a climate solution? How or why?

A: We live within a finite system where  everything and everyone interconnected and dependent upon each other. Realizing that this system is based on a carbon dependent economy in which our  individual and collective behavior can affect that carbon dependency and thus the effects it has on people and the planet.

Tracking numbers are placed on the additional 115K pieces collected, and are diverted responsibly,  in accordance with state and federal law. The Computer Recycling Center has won 3 awards for their efficiency and their unique, tuition dollar-saving model.

CRC expands with OwlTech storefront.

Trade in, Trade up at Temple

In 2019, the CRC expanded to open OwlTech, a retail, storefront operation in Pearson Lobby. OwlTech has a complete lifecycle of electronics, offers warranty and discounts, a trade in and trade up system, and new products to purchase.

OwlTech in Pearson Hall at Temple University: Main Campus.

Q: How have the challenges of COVID and work from home presented opportunities for sustainable innovation?

A: COVID exacerbated the already widening digital divide but led to the acceleration, acceptance and recognition of the deep value presented by refurbishing and extending the life of existing resources, like computer devices need for those without.

Digital Equity for North Philly.

Technology is an essential tool and can be an equalizer in the economy. To ensure civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning and access to essential services, one needs access to online services. The pandemic posed a problem for the North Philadelphia community. Playing a zero sum game, Jonathan continued the $25 model to refurbish machines and recover costs.  The CRC collaborated with several partners to identify community members in need.

200 laptops were donated to community members in North Philadelphia. Educational, “Ikea Style”,  step-by-step documents were distributed with the computers explaining how to set them up. The CRC also provided customer service, where Jonathan and his student workers offered remote tech support to community members.
Watch a snippet from Stories of Sustainability to hear directly from our #EcoChampion about the North Philly Digital Navigator Workforce Development Initiative and building community tech centers throughout the city.

Jonathan’s Not so Secret, Secrets to Success.

  1. Triple Bottom Line
  2. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
  3. Systems Theory and Logistics
  4. Product Life Cycle
  5. Willing to experiment
  6. Focusing on the holes value proposition
  7. Look at everything for opportunities

Stay in touch with #EcoChampion, Jonathan.




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