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How Psychologists Can Address E-Waste

Recycling technology for underserved communities.

I am blessed to work with several wonderful graduate students at DePaul. Below is a piece, edited for PT, we recently wrote for The Community Psychologist newsletter. Thanks to Devki A. Patel, Alyssa Altieri, Helena L. Swanson, Brianna Mabie for your insights.

As technology innovations produce faster, more capable computers and phones, the accessibility of such devices remains a concern. In fact, 92% of U.S. citizens earning more than $100,000 annually own a desktop computer or laptop, compared to 59% of those who earn less than $30,000 annually (Vogels, 2021). Further, 31% of Americans have electronic clutter (or e-waste) including a tablet or laptop not being used; almost 50% have unused phones. Given the inequalities observed in terms of electronic access, it is important to understand the scope of the problem and address social inequality. We believe psychologists have a role in addressing inequality in electronic access with preventive and intervention strategies addressing this social issue.

E-Waste: A Social Justice Issue?

Inaccessibility to technology is a social justice issue because inequity disproportionately impacts marginalized populations (Vogels, 2021). It is important to continue researching and coming up with creative solutions through prevention and intervention efforts to address inaccessibility to technology from multiple perspectives (Milheim, 2006), including an ecological lens.

We need to create sustainable social interventions, addressing specific issues like access to technology. Increasing technology access for all is a crucial issue affecting vulnerable populations, e.g., older adults, persons living in low-income rural areas, and underserved children (London et al., 2010). Interventions focused on increasing access to knowledge about technology (Powell et al., 2019), technological skills and development (O’Donnell et al., 2006), and technological infrastructure are important for a socially just world and workforce. In addition to interventions, professional partnerships and nonprofits must address the digital divide.

Closing the Digital Divide and Eliminating E-Waste

One non-profit organization addressing technology access and knowledge inequality is Comp-U-Dopt, which has locations in 13 U.S. cities and is continuing to expand. Comp-U-Dopt frequently collaborates with community-based organizations here in the Chicago-land area, providing technology resources across the city. While some face major barriers in technology access and use, many professionals in the corporate sector use computers for only two or three years before disposing of them. The organization’s mission is reachable because over 80% of unused computers end up in landfills. As of October 2021, when Comp-U-Dopt made its 10,000th computer donation to a family, it had worked in the Chicago area for 18 months. Comp-U-Dopt works predominantly with younger age groups to provide technology in households, build confidence with technology use, and develop skills in informational technology to prepare students for the workforce. Comp-U-Dopt, officials say support is most beneficial in the form of corporate computer donations, individual computer donations, financial donations, volunteering, and increasing awareness through word of mouth and following and sharing accounts on social media.

Psychologists' Role in Addressing E-Waste

Applied and community psychologists are positioned to contribute to decreasing the digital divide through research, program evaluation, and collaborations with organizations like Comp-U-Dopt. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, technology use increased as many education and workforce systems went virtual. Unfortunately, many students and families faced challenges surrounding network, power, and technology inequity such as inaccessibility and inequality in technology knowledge; Onyema et al. 2020). Classes provided by organizations like Comp-U-Dopt assist in eradicating these issues and allow students to receive the full benefits of learning online.

Moving forward, program evaluation regarding the digital divide and how technology is dispersed, specifically regarding low-income communities containing students in need of this technology, should be conducted by community psychologists. Broadband access and internet connectivity solutions are also critical issues plaguing underfunded communities in need of internet access (Reddick et al., 2020). We must focus on the importance of accessibility to computers, which will inevitably allow them to confront poverty in relation to education/job training (Reddick et al., 2020). Organizations whose mission is providing these resources represent a key step in offering solutions to the digital divide. This goal, alongside the necessity to continue recycling electronics to keep them within the community and out of landfills, are both resolved through the contribution and dedication to programs surrounding e-waste.


Patel, D., Altieri, A., Swanson, H.A., Mabie, B., & Ferrari, J.R. (2022). "Don't throw it away - Give it away:” Recycling electronic tech to underserved communities. The Community Psychologist, 55, 27-30.

London, R. A., Pastor, M., Servon, L. J., Rosner, R., & Wallace, A. (2010). The role of community technology centers in promoting youth development. Youth & Society, 42(2), 199–228.

Milheim, K. L. (2006). Not just an access issue: Further analysis of the digital divide from a socioeconomic perspective.

O’Donnell, J., & Coe-Regan, J. A. R. (2006). Promoting youth development and community involvement with technology: The Long Beach YMCA CORAL youth institute. Journal of Technology in Human Services, 24(2-3), 55–82.

Onyema, E. M., Eucheria, N. C., Obafemi, A. F., Sen, S., Atonye, F. G., Sharma, A., & Alsayed, A. O. (2020). Impact of coronavirus pandemic on education. Journal of Education and Practice, 11(13), ISSN 2222-288X.

Powell, K. R., Alexander, G. L., Madsen, R., & Deroche, C. (2019). A national assessment of access to technology among nursing home residents: A secondary analysis. JMIR Aging, 2(1), e11449–e11449.

Reddick, C. G., Enriquez, R., Harris, R. J., & Sharma, B. (2020). Determinants of broadband access and affordability: An analysis of a community survey on the digital divide. Cities, 106, 102904. doi:10.1016/j.cities.2020.102904

Vogels, E. A. (June 2021). Digital divide persists even as Americans with lower incomes make gains in tech adoption. Pew Research Center.

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