Volume 20, No.3, Fall 2002

Computer Career

James Burgett, a 350-pound biker and ex-heroin addict, runs one of largest nonprofit computer recycling centers in the United States. Most of the money he makes is poured back into nonprofit activities. He has supplied refurbished computers to nearly every school in Oakland, Calif., human rights organizations in Guatemala, orphanages in Mexico, and disadvantaged people the world over.

His football-field-size warehouse in a run-down east Oakland neighborhood is stacked to the roof with obsolete computers and monitors. He processes 200 tons of equipment every month, with most of it coming from big banks and credit card companies. At first, he hauled the equipment away for free, but now the companies pay him.

Once at his warehouse, the computers are stripped of all their useful parts, and the glass, metal, and plastic go to raw materials recyclers. Burgett says the only waste he sends to the landfill is lunch leftovers and food wrappers.

His staff consists of a couple dozen volunteers who are referred by homeless shelters, rehabilitation programs, and parole officers for basic job training. He also has a few underemployed computer jockeys from Silicon Valley.

The refurbished computers are loaded with the free Linux operating system. Last year Burgett gave away 5,000 computers, and this year he is on track for 12,0000.

The California Materials Exchange reports that more computers are being disposed of than are being sold new, and Burgett seems to be the living proof. He is on the lookout for a bigger warehouse.

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