Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.
Willie Cade has been refurbishing computers since the mid 90s. His passion is his work. He seems to be endlessly enthused by this field and is always looking for ways to better it. Of course …this is just my perspective …as his daughter, so maybe this opinion could come across as a bit constricted. That is why I decided to interview my father. I thought it might be interesting to step away from these, perhaps, biased impressions and get a bigger picture of what it is like to be a recycler, directly from the horse’s mouth.
In 1995, Willie came across the problem of not knowing what to do with old computers so he decided to address it. As he got more involved in the field of e-waste, it became clear to him how relevant an issue it is. So relevant, in fact, that he started a company, called PCRR, that puts used computers into schools and houses of at-risk children. He wanted to fill a need: people needed computers and other people wanted to get rid of computers but they did not know how. Willie knew how. He claims, “the career chose me.”
While developing his business, Willie found the policy side of e-waste especially interesting. He likes to be able to examine good solutions that work for everybody and apply those solutions in the best way possible, but there are problems that make this somewhat difficult. The problems arise when not a lot of solid e-waste facts can be obtained since the topic of e-waste is a relatively new issue. This can lead to opinions without the basis of knowledge; hyperbole, not reason. When the press encounters these opinions they will sometimes present it as fact and misinterpretations can arise. Willie finds this to be one of the hardest parts of dealing with e-waste.
The best possible solution to these discrepancies seems to be more research. So this is part of what we are trying to do with the Sustainable Electronics Initiative. The problem of e-waste itself, according to Willie, can be best addressed by encouraging reuse. He said, “We just don’t think that way. We’re so wired to new. We’ve gotten into a bad habit of not reusing and now our economy is built to buy new. We need to shift from that wasteful style to a more sustainable one.” The positive side to this is that Willie sees this as feasible. He sees hints of it in fashion, for example, with vintage and retro coming back into style. And since green is the new black, maybe the cool thing to do will be to reuse as much as possible, including reusing those old computers.
So Willie’s advice for someone who wants to get rid of an old computer is to give it to someone who will destroy the data and reuse it as much as possible. He also mentions that it is important to know that it is urban myth that you need to destroy data more than once according to the National Security Agency, that does not erase anymore data and it just hurts the chance for better reuse.
To hear more from Willie Cade visit North and Clark for an audio version of an interview with Willie.