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Goodwill takes on computer recycling

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In 2005, without even promoting its efforts to recycle electronic components, donations of computer-related items to Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont totaled 10 tons a week.

Now, based on a two-year pilot project that channeled computer-related donations from all its retail stores to its outlet store at 2901-A Freedom Drive, Goodwill has opened its first Computer Works Store at 2913 Freedom Drive.

“For us, it’s an opportunity,” says Michael Elder, president and CEO.

The new store, he says, embodies Goodwill’s mission of “changing lives through the power of work.”

Goodwill can use the store to teach new skills to people with disabilities or other barriers to work, while providing a new source of revenue to finance its training mission, he says.

The new store also reflects growth at Goodwill, which has an annual budget of $27 million, employs 500 people and last year served 7,100 clients.

Goodwill now operates 17 retail stores in seven of the 18 counties it serves in the Carolinas, including 11 stores in Mecklenburg County.

Two more retail stores are planned in Mountain Island Lake, south of Lake Norman, and near Lake Wylie in South Charlotte.

While most stores serve urban areas, Goodwill within 10 years is considering opening eight to 10 stores in rural areas.

“We want to go out and serve and be of service in some of these smaller communities,” Elder says.

The Computer Works Store creates new training opportunities for Goodwill’s clients and employees.

All of its clients have some barriers to employment, and half its employees have disabilities or employment barriers, or had them when they first came to Goodwill, Elder says.

The store also addresses escalating environmental and privacy problems, he says.

Computers and some of their components, he says, contain hazardous materials and represent the fastest-growing source of waste.

“All of that represents a challenge for communities and individuals,” he says.

Recycled computers also contain personal information that, if not destroyed, creates the risk of identity theft and the invasion of privacy.

Goodwill “de-manufactures” computers, increasing their salvage value by bundling materials like aluminum and plastic, and obtains assurances from its recycling customers that they will dispose of the materials safely and responsibly, Elder says.

And in learning to take computers apart, he says, Goodwill’s trainees also learn how to put them back together, giving them marketable computer-repair skills.

Goodwill also uses specialty software and U.S. Department of Defense standards in making sure it destroys any personal data left on computers it resells.

While individuals and small companies have donated most of the used computers to Goodwill, it now is considering a more targeted asset-recovery program serving mid-sized and large corporations.

In addition to its retail stores, Goodwill operates four job-resources centers and a classroom-based training center that together served 7,100 individuals last year, placing 1,900 of them in competitive jobs.

And last May it launched GoodWork Staffing, which provides other employers with temporary workers, including those who want to become full-time employees.

In its first year, GoodWork Staffing served 271 individuals who worked 6,000 hours.

As it grows, Elder says, Goodwill’s biggest challenge is “effectively managing growth, and attracting and retaining talented staff.”

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