‘Brave Gals’ in Mexico pioneer a new international model for computer recycling

TechSoup Global has been a leader in international computer recycling since our GreenTech director Jim Lynch co-founded the International Computer Refurbisher Summit in 2002. After delivering the keynote address at this year’s Summit in Phoenix last week, Jim joined a delegation to tour a cross-border model of what Jim calls humanitarian refurbishment -- environmentally safe and economically equitable for partners in poorer countries. The Las Chicas Bravas ("Brave Gals") collective and their Retroworks de Mexico recycling operation provide fair wages and good working conditions in an economically depressed part of Mexico.  Here is Jim’s report.

Located in a depressed mining community, the women partnered with American Retroworks, Inc. in 2006 to create jobs for older women often discriminated against in the Mexican labor market.  Steadfastly avoiding the payment of bribes usually required to start such enterprises, they founded their operation in an abandoned carpet factory to create sustainable environmental careers from an increasing pile of electronic debris.

The women take apart hard drives, televisions, computers, and other end of life electronics equipment that is legally exported from the US. The parts they recover are then sold on the world market, including low-cost equipment made available to schools and libraries in developing countries.

Today, their plant is fully operational with Wi-Fi internet, a modern air compression system and air-tools which provides a faster turnaround time between accepting virtually any electronic device with a plug and demanufacturing items for recycling. From televisions to hard-drives, they are able to quickly disassemble and report all of the items coming and going from the plant with ease. 

In addition to Las Chicas Bravas, Retroworks de Mexico is co-owned by Rancho Mababi, a sustainable ranching reserve in the nearby Sierra Madre Mountains, and Cochise County Learning Advisory Council (CCLAC), a nonprofit digital divide organization in Bisbee, AZ, which is also a cooperative project with American Retroworks in Vermont.

There were a variety of people on the tour including a journalist, Jonathon Shacat from the Bisbee Daily Review, a group of researchers from Memorial University of Newfoundland in Nova Scotia, a U.S. trade representative, and Michael Rohrbach who runs CCLAC in Bisbee. We were all very impressed!

Now in our 25th year, Techsoup Global helps create networks like this -- connecting organizations to innovate sustainable enterprises at the local level, which help save the planet through innovations in technology at the international level. Other TechSoup GreenTech projects include:

·  refurbished computer programs in eight countries within the TechSoup Global Network (Poland being the most recent);

·  TSG’s Refurbished Computer Initiative which continues to serve as a model for these new international programs;

·  a new partnership with Microsoft to develop U.S. refurbishment standards to not only insure the production of quality equipment but which will also restrict the improper foreign dumping of e-waste.

In recognition of this decade of leadership, Jim testified before the U.S. International Trade Commission earlier this year. You can read about it here.


Photo courtesy of Jonathon Shacat, Bisbee Daily Review



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