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Recycling program helps schools snag new technology

Schools can earn points or cash for recycled technology products.

At a time when many school districts are forced to cut their ed-tech spending, some schools are able to purchase laptops, digital cameras, and other classroom technology through a national technology recycling program.

FundingFactory is a free program that encourages schools to recycle printer cartridges and cell phones in an effort to “go green” and earn rewards at the same time. Businesses and local community groups are able to donate their own used technology for a school or district’s benefit.

Every qualifying printer cartridge and cell phone has a value, and the value for all the collected items is deposited into a school’s online account. Schools can spend their fundraiser earnings in FundingFactory’s Rewards Catalog, or they can request a check.

More than 50,000 schools participate in the recycling program, said FundingFactory co-founder Sean Micheals, adding that the organization plans to add more eligible devices, including iPods and MP3 players, GPS units, and laptops, to its list of accepted products.

“If a school wanted to do a field trip or something that we really couldn’t offer in the catalog,” the cash option is useful, Michaels said.

Some of the most popular technology items include digital cameras and new or replacement printer cartridges.

“A digital camera is one of those things that the school isn’t going to provide, but a lot of teachers like to have,” Michaels said. “It’s one of the niceties that falls outside of the budget. We see a lot of digital cameras being ordered.”

The West Boylston school district in Massachusetts first began participating about 10 years ago, and its involvement grew after the district recruited a parent volunteer to spread the word and ask local businesses to recycle printer cartridges and cell phones on behalf of the district, said Steve Pellowe, the district’s technology coordinator.

“When you consider that it costs us nothing to participate, it’s fantastic,” Pellowe said.

To date, the district has just topped the 100,000-point mark, which Pellowe said translates to more than $40,000 in ed-tech items. The district has purchased digital cameras, laptops, printers, and installed six projectors in its elementary school this summer.

Parents and local businesses help, and the district keeps a collection box at the local post office.

“Beyond the fact that we just don’t have the money in the budget to do some of these things, being able to put a projector in the hands of a teacher is huge,” Pellowe said. “Any technology item that directly benefits the students is just one more tool they’ll have in the future.”

At the last count, Pellowe said the district has recycled more than 71,000 pounds of equipment.

“We could fill our high school media center floor to ceiling with all that we’ve recycled,” he said. “The more schools that can do this, the better it’s going to be for all students.”

The Elk County Catholic School System in St. Mary’s, Pa., has participated in FundingFactory’s recycling program since 1999, and has earned almost $24,000 in cash, in addition to equipment redemptions.

“It’s very easy, and it keeps us from putting [the cartridges and cell phones] in the trash, and we benefit from that money—that’s a substantial amount,” said Marlene Stubber, the district’s technology coordinator.

The district, which includes about 700 students and slightly fewer than 100 faculty and staff, redeems its points and uses its cash for printers and printing supplies.

Stubber said an added bonus is that students see a return on their “green” efforts and bring in eligible items from home. The district works with six businesses that receive prepaid boxes and ship recyclables directly to FundingFactory on the district’s behalf, and other businesses and parents bring recyclable materials into the schools.

A list of qualifying printer cartridges and cell phones, and corresponding point or cash value, is available here.

An Apple iPhone 4 (32GB) is worth 500 points or $200. Inkjet printer cartridges range from .5 points to 6 points, or can be redeemed for between $.20 and $3.20. Laser printer cartridges range .5 points to 30 points, or can be redeemed for $.20 to $12.00.

On the site, a Lenovo ThinkPad is available for 1,892 points. Schools might opt to purchase any one of several 3M projectors offered online, beginning at 704 points.

Products are not limited to technology–schools can purchase products for arts and crafts, reading, science, special education, math, early childhood, and more.

“It boils down to awareness and getting more schools involved; once schools are registered, involvement is the key—getting the word out to the parents, parents’ places of employment, and the community,” Michaels said.

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