Staff with PAR Recycle Works load up the many old electronic devices delivered by participants in the recycling drive June 20 held at St. John Chrysostom Parish, Wallingford. (Photo by Mary Chollet)

What do you do with your extra electronic devices — when a cell phone breaks, an old computer is updated for a newer model, or the Christmas lights go out?

Electronic waste, or e-waste, cannot simply be discarded in the trash according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Containing metals like lead and mercury, e-waste can become hazardous waste if not properly managed. When people are unsure what to do with their old devices, they can find themselves with old cell phones and TVs, keyboards and fax machines collecting dust in boxes in the garage.

People Advancing Reintegration (PAR) Recycle Works and St. John Chrysostom Parish in Wallingford have embraced a better way that is not only good for the environment, but also supports individuals returning from prison.

PAR Recycle Works employs individuals re-entering society after being incarcerated. They recycle e-waste –everything from computers and TVs to microwaves and air conditioners. As operations manager Maurice Jones puts it, they will take pretty much anything that has a plug.

Located in Germantown, the nonprofit often collaborates with local parishes, churches and communities to hold recycling events. At such events, people bring their e-waste to a central location and PAR Recycle Works transports it to their warehouse to be taken apart and recycled.

Individuals can also drop off electronics to PAR Recycle Works during designated hours, or schedule for the nonprofit to pick up donations.

PAR Recycle Works collaborated with St. John Chrysostom Parish on Saturday, June 20 for the fourth time in three years. Director of Parish Services Mary Chollet says it’s her “favorite event of the year.”

From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., parishioners and members of the community could bring their e-waste to the church parking lot. At 8:15 a.m., 50 cars were lined up and waiting.

By the end of the day a few hundred cars had gone through and 4,700 pounds of electronics, filling three 26-foot moving vans, had been collected.

A PAR Recycle Works staffer sorts items to be recycled. (Photo by Mary Chollet)

That’s a lighter collection than usual for St. John Chrysostom, according to Chollet and Jones.

Jones believes this was most likely because of the coronavirus pandemic. The e-recycling event at St. John Chrysostom was their first community event since the shutdown.

Taking precautions, all participants wore masks. Donors stayed in their cars and simply had to pop the trunk, at which point PAR workers removed the e-waste and loaded it onto a truck.

At events prior to coronavirus restrictions, donors were still asked not to unload items. Chollet observed that people instinctively want to get out of their cars and help, but are asked not to because it is dangerous work.

She told PAR employees at the event, “nobody works harder than you guys.”

After the e-waste is collected, it’s brought to PAR Recycle Works’ warehouse. Any data on the devices is deleted, and parts are recycled or sold. From this, the non-profit generates its income to pay its employees.

Employment at PAR Recycle is transitional, usually four to eight months. Employees also receive services such as professional training, help with resumes, access to food and training in financial and digital literacy. The organization is trauma informed, according to Jones, and helps people unpack trauma they may have never processed.

After the four-to-eight month period, the organization helps employees prepare applications for other places of employment. They have direct lines of communication with various employers who will often hire PAR employees when they are ready to transition to full-time employment.

The fruits of PAR Recycle Works are two-fold, according to employee Nationa Jones-el. “We’re helping the community clean up, and helping individuals get back on their feet,” she said.

Chollet agreed, adding the e-recycling event is an opportunity for the community to come together, and a way for people to engage in the corporal work of mercy to visit the imprisoned – one she says can be difficult for suburban parishes to practically do.

The coronavirus pandemic presents challenges for PAR Recycle Works and their employees. Employees were furlough during the shutdown, and are just now beginning to come back. The quickest way to get their employees back to work is to hold community donation events, like the one at St. John Chrysostom, said Jones.

Reflecting on her job, employee Tiera Clark said, “I love it” and that despite the sweltering heat, the June 20 event was “a great day.”

 Those wishing to donate electronics, schedule a community donation event, make a monetary donation or learn more about PAR Recycle Works, can visit their website at https://home.par-recycleworks.org/

Cars line up at St. John Chrysostom Parish in Wallingford Saturday morning, June 20 for the electronics recycling event that gathered more than two tons of e-waste and benefited the PAR Recycle Works employees reentering society after incarceration. (Photo by Mary Chollet)