Think of all the once-loved, but now discarded, electronic devices cluttering up drawers and closets in countless homes, schools and other organizations across the country. In many cases, their owners cast them aside when newer versions came along.
But with proper recycling and refurbishment, old technology can serve a purpose yet again, earning cash and rewards for schools through FundingFactory, a fundraising program administered by Environmental Reclamation Services in Erie, Pa. (ERS is a division of Clover Technologies Group, a supplier of aftermarket printer cartridges and small electronics.)
Springfield Elementary School is one of many schools around the country that has benefitted from the program. The 700-student K–5 school in Springfield, Ga., has earned approximately $1,000 in technology for its two computer labs over the past 10 years, simply by collecting used ink cartridges and cell phones from students, teachers, parents and even local businesses and then sending them to FundingFactory.
"In the education system, you're constantly looking for ways to spend your money to its fullest advantage," says Rebecca Allen, the school's instructional technology teacher. Participating in FundingFactory is an easy, effective way to supplement the IT budget. "I love it," she says of the program. "Everything I've gotten for the school through FundingFactory has expanded what I can do with our students in the computer lab."
Since officially launching in 1998, FundingFactory has collected used ink cartridges from schools and nonprofits in exchange for points that can be spent on technology and other supplies. In 2003, the program began accepting used cell phones. Within the last year, it has added small electronic devices, such as digital cameras, MP3 players, notebook computers and GPS units, to its roster of recyclables.
FundingFactory supplies participants with prepaid shipping labels so there are no added costs. Program administrators assess donated items as they are received from participating schools and allocate points to the schools' respective accounts. Every qualifying item has a point value, which is listed on the FundingFactory website, and every point is worth 40 cents. (If a school has 100 points, it has earned $40.) Newer items have a higher resale value and, thus, earn a school more money. A high-end smartphone, for example, is worth $80, whereas ink cartridges are worth no more than a couple of dollars.
Once donations are processed, the items are routed to one of Clover Technologies' 33 facilities. "Most of the products we receive will be reused or refurbished, so they will be given another life," says Sean Michaels, co-president of ERS. "The ink cartridges are refilled and resold, as are most of the other gadgets." The small percentage of collected items that don't have aftermarket value are recycled responsibly, he adds.
Schools can spend their points on items in the FundingFactory rewards catalog or redeem the points for cash. FundingFactory fills its catalog with products it believes will be popular with schools, based on user requests and internal monitoring of products that are ordered most frequently.
Springfield Elementary teachers have made the program fun for students by adorning a small trash can with glasses and a hat and positioning it on a mobile cart. Student volunteers then wheel "Recycle Man" up and down the halls of the school to collect donated items from each classroom.
"The kids love dropping the cartridges in and letting him 'eat' them," says Tammy Dixon, the school's technology paraprofessional. "When our little man gets full, we empty his contents into a box and ship everything to FundingFactory." She says that she ships one to two boxes of donated items to FundingFactory each week, on average.
50K The number of schools and nonprofits participating in FundingFactory
"A week or so later, we check to see how many points we earned," Dixon continues. "It's a really simple program. There's not a lot of work involved."
Thanks to FundingFactory, Springfield Elementary's technology staff has nearly reached its goal of having a flatbed scanner at each of the computer lab's workstations. A few of the scanners were donated, but eight others (including Canon CanoScan LiDE 110 and Epson Perfection V30 flatbed scanners) were purchased with FundingFactory points.
"It's nice to have the majority of the kids scanning at the same time," Dixon says. "Before, we had to teach five or six kids at a time. Now, we can do almost the whole room simultaneously."
The school also has acquired batteries for digital cameras, a label machine, ink cartridges and five plug-in USB microphones from Logitech through the FundingFactory program. Allen also recently cashed out some points to buy new cords for the headphones in the computer lab.
According to Allen and Dixon, Springfield Elementary teachers have used the label machine to help their youngest students remember the login and passwords for software programs. They've also labelled the parts of the computer to reinforce for students the proper terminology for monitor, keyboard and computer. Fourth- and fifth-grade students are using the microphones to narrate projects in Microsoft Windows Movie Maker, among other projects.
Beyond bringing additional technology into Springfield Elementary and other classrooms, the FundingFactory program is a powerful teaching tool because it actively involves students in the process of recycling and fundraising for their school, says ERS' Michaels. They are taking things that, in many cases, were bound for a landfill and giving them a second life while also generating funding to buy technologies that advance their own learning, he explains.
"It's an ongoing win-win for the environment and for the school," Michaels says.