E-waste social enterprise prepares to weather second coronavirus wave

"We are very pleased to be considered an essential enterprise, especially in light of our workforce," the manager said.

Yishai Ben-Tov works at Ecology for a Protected Community in Misgav (photo credit: COURTESY ECOLOGY FOR A PROTECTED COMMUNITY)
Yishai Ben-Tov works at Ecology for a Protected Community in Misgav
A groundbreaking Israeli initiative which employs people with special needs to recondition electronic equipment for families in need is preparing to forge ahead during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ecology for a Protected Community, based in Misgav near Karmiel, northern Israel, employs about 80 people with mental, physical, cognitive and sensory disabilities to collect and recondition electronic waste. It then sells the computers and other equipment at discounted prices – or even donates the hardware – to students, impoverished families, and anyone else who may need one.
During the first wave of the coronavirus lockdown, the factory, owned by Ecommunity, was declared essential and was allowed to remain in operation, albeit with employees taking precautions against the virus.
“Normally we employ about 80 people with disabilities, but these days the workforce has been reduced,” the factory's CEO Omri de Garcia said. “Despite this, the sorting department, the computer lab, technical support, customer service, deliveries and the factory’s outlet store continue to provide continuous service to private customers and a variety of entities operating within the economy.”
“We are very pleased to be considered an essential enterprise, especially in light of our workforce,” he added.
Globally, electronic waste is a significant – and growing – problem. A UN report, The Global E-waste Monitor 2020, found that in 2019 there were 53.6 million metric tons (Mt) of electronic waste generated globally, of which 9.3 Mt was documented as collected and properly recycled, amounting to just 17.4%.
The figure represented a nearly 20% increase of the amount of waste generated in just five years, up from 44.4 Mt in 2014, of which 7.5 Mt were recycled. The report estimated that on current trends, by 2030 nearly 75 Mt of e-waste would be generated a year.
Ecology for a Protected Community takes pride in its recycling efforts, ensuring that electronic waste from a range of organizations including hospitals, health funds, the Weizmann Institute, municipal authorities and a range of private businesses do not cause environmental damage through improper disposal, but are instead collected and processed responsibly. Between 2009 and 2019, the organization collected and processed 14,588,764 kg. of electronic waste.
The plant’s founder, Danny Kogan, who has a son with autism, pointed out that in addition to the environmental benefits, the organization feeds back into the community through donations and salaries paid to people with disabilities. The factory is unique in Israel and has been designated the first “employment promotion enterprise” of its kind in the country.
“In fact, we provide a socio-ecological-economic solution,” Kogan said, adding, “of course, all the workers in the factory follow the guidelines of the Health Ministry and are 2 meters away from each other, wearing gloves and masks, and all the work materials are disinfected.”
Boaz Aloni, 52, who has worked as a PC technician at the factory for nine years, said he was proud to work there.
“[The work] is good for me, to feel useful and not purposeless, and to know that I and my ability to assemble computers are needed so that students can continue to study from home. Most of my friends and family are now sitting at home because of the lockdown, and some envy me a little that I work.”
Yishai Ben-Tov, 45, who has been employed by the organization for eight years and now runs a customer service and product delivery department, agreed with his colleague.
“When I take delivery of a computer that my factory has donated to a low-income family, I get really excited and it makes me feel good because I know that, because the family can’t buy a computer, they will cherish the one they receive, and that those children will be able to continue their studies like their peers,” he said. “I’m pleased to be able to serve my people in the fight against the coronavirus, and to feel worthwhile.”