Currently, Neverware is piloting their solution around New York City’s public school system, which is one of the more autonomous and innovative school systems in the country.
“We planned to set up five schools in the first half of this year, but we had such a huge demand, we quickly went into double digits,” Hefter remarks, “now there is this incredible race on our part to scale up to meet the demand.”
But, Neverware does not promise to improve education. It is simply a hardware solution. “What Jonathan is doing with Neverware is necessary, but not necessarily sufficient,” worries Steven Hodas. “Every school will be where it was 5 years ago when it got that brand new shipment of computers. Basically, it’s a great point of departure,” he explains. “But now that you’ve got the tool, what are you going to do with it?” Just because computers are working better and kids can browse, research, and use programs faster, doesn’t necessarily mean they will learn better.
That doesn’t lessen its promise beyond New York City classrooms. Demand for desktop PCs may be declining in developed countries, yet developing countries are incredibly hungry for PCs, says Jim Lynch, Director of Green Tech at TechSoup Global.
“With the growth of internet and electricity in Africa, demand for PCs is going through the roof,” he says.
Believe it or not, the actual hardware lifespan of a PC is around fifteen years – because most of the weaker parts are interchangeable. In developed countries PCs often get tossed after a few years of use because they slow down, or newer, better technology comes out – creating a tremendous amount of e-waste, and wasted opportunity.
“Life extension, or adding life onto an expensive piece of equipment like that, is by far the most environmental way to recycle – keeping both the function and materials alive as long as possible,” says Lynch.
Many organisations facilitate the donation of millions of PCs each year from developed to developing countries. But the process is not so easy.
“[The PCs] are quite often non-functional. They are slow, sluggish, they’ve been used for a few years” Lynch says. “To get a second life out of these things, you’ve got to clean it out, test it, put a new OS on it, and then it will run like it came out of the box.”
International organisations, like World Computer Exchange and TechSoup Global, facilitate the refurbishing, but Neverware’s Juicebox could also play a new, more localised role, in this ecosystem as well.
Africa has a paltry recycling rate for mobile phones (just 1% in Nigeria, for example), and a similar recycling rate for PCs, says Lynch.
The number of obsolete PCs generated in developing regions is expected to exceed that of developed regions by 2016−2018, according to recent research – creating an enormous amount of wasted hardware.
By boosting the performance and extending the lifespan of old PCs in developing countries, Juiceboxes might help technology recycling become a little more sustainable, especially in schools that spend loads of time, money, and effort in sourcing and shipping in new or donated PCs. “One of the problems with donated computers is that getting them through the port isn’t straightforward. It makes it much more expensive,” says James Tooley, an expert on education in developing countries, and author of The Beautiful Tree, which explores how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves. “If you can just bring in a Juicebox, it might be easier,”