Computer recycler threatened by bureaucratic nightmare

Visitors to the two Bay Area Maker Faires will remember the amazing supercomputing cluster made from recycled PCs running on a veggie oil-fueled generator, and Silicon Death Valley, a fun cemetery of computer industry cast-offs. Those were the work of the good people at the Alameda County Computer Recycling Resource Center, a fantastic Berkeley, California-based non-profit group that recycles anything that plugs into the wall. Its director, James Burgett, is a champion of DIY culture, opening his doors to makers looking for old gear for projects, but their primary focus is "the charitable placement of computers in the hands of those who do not have access." As the ACCRC slogan goes, "Obsolescence is just a lack of imagination." Now though, the ACCRC is in trouble. The Department of Toxic Substance Control of the California Environmental Protection Agency has issued the ACCRC a violation that could make it very hard for the group to stay in business. And, quite frankly, that's a damned shame.


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MAKE: founder Dale Dougherty has more at the O'Reilly Radar blog. From his post:

Let's imagine that you set up a non-profit to recycle electronics and divert computers from going directly into landfills or otherwise being destroyed by a grinder. You look for ways to refurbish these components and possibly recombine them into functional computers that go out to areas and institutions that have difficulty obtaining computers. You might even collect some of the vintage electronics that comes through the door and hang on to this stuff because you think it's cool and somebody may want it someday. Yes, your place looks a bit like a junkyard but it's one that employs people to do something with the junk you collect. And while you have organized these efforts as a charity, you have figured out how to break even from providing these recycling services and you don't need donations or government support.

You do all this and then a government inspector drops in one day. This is an inspector from the Department of Toxic Substance Control of the California Environmental Protection Agency . You've had inspectors before and the visits have been cordial. Your operation is not unlike the Salvation Army or the Goodwill. You have worked with the DTSC in the past. You think you're a friend of the environment because you repurpose equipment that would otherwise be waste.

You expect to pass the inspection but no. Instead, you get written up. Perhaps it's because there's a new inspector in town with something to prove. No matter, you've now been handed a Section 1 violation, which means they can shut you down or make it very hard for you to stay in business. The inspector says that you don't have a proper inventory of all the parts. The inspector says that you have to get rid of equipment after a year, so you'll have to clear out your museum of collectibles. This is the letter of the law and you're expected to follow it. You're given 30 days to comply.

Now, if this really was you, you might get upset. You'd see all the work you've done about to be undone, unravelled. It seems nobody cares that you're in this mess and the government, which seems to promote and support environmental cleanup, is using narrow interpretations of its regulations to block the operations of a group engaged in precisely this kind of activity.
Link to O'Reilly Radar post, Link to James Burgett's blog, Link to ACCRC

Previously on BB:
• ReMake: Bay Area electronics recycling event starts tomorrow!Link
• Earth Day: MAKE: and Alameda County Computer Resource Center recycling event Link