North Philly program employs returning citizens for an environmental purpose

A group of employees collect e-waste at PAR-Recycle in North Philadelphia.

A group of employees collect e-waste at PAR-Recycle in North Philadelphia. The nonprofit employs formerly incarcerated individuals as part of their mission to provide employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated people. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Jones)

According to the EPA, Americans generated 2.7 million tons of consumer electronics waste in 2018. The world produces 50 million tons of e-waste each year. Only 20% of that waste is recycled, with the remaining waste going to landfills.

People Advancing Reintegration, known as PAR-Recycle Works, is a nonprofit organization trying to change those recycling rates — as well as the rate of the formerly incarcerated who end up back in prison.

The mission of PAR-Recycle is to reduce recidivism through electronics recycling. The organization provides transitional employment to people who are returning home from prison. The nonprofit started back in 2016 and has worked with 110 people. Of that number, 90 have gone on to full-time work, and only two have gone back to prison.

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PAR-Recycle Works provides training and therapies that include financial literacy, digital literacy, cognitive behavioral therapy, conflict resolution, mindfulness, forklift operation, and support in getting driver’s licenses. The idea is to set people up for success in their time with the organization, which is usually six to nine months.

“It is a way for individuals to get their lives back after incarceration,” PAR-Recycle Founder Maurice Jones said.

The United States incarcerates more of its population than any other country in the world. In Pennsylvania, Philadelphia has the highest incarceration rate of any county, and approximately 25,000 people come back to the city every year from prison. Out of that, 17,500 end up going back to prison. U.S. Department of Justice statistics say that over 68% of those released from prison in the first three years will be reincarcerated.

A PAR-Recycle employee examines one of the pieces of e-waste that the nonprofit collects and recycles.
An employee examines an example of e-waste at PAR-Recycle in North Philadelphia. The nonprofit employs formerly incarcerated individuals as part of their mission to provide employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated people. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Jones)

“Being from the city, understanding the city, having an upbringing from the hood I know what it’s like. I’ve been a statistic, I’ve been to jail and I know what people are faced with when they come home without support,” said Jones.

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A way to reduce recidivism is to help returning citizens become self-sufficient. Keeping them employed helps them to have a steady income while also building up their resumes and teaching skills.

“70% of people that aren’t employed within their first year of being released are going to be reincarcerated, so that is a direct mitigator,” said Jones. The goal is to provide employment and financial stability to returning citizens.

PAR-Recycle Works provides those opportunities through the work of recycling e-waste for the Philadelphia community. They collect computers, laptops, cables, wires, phones, cable boxes, iPads, remote controls, video game consoles, DVR, VCR, and CD players for free. If the items are big, like a flat screen TV or dehumidifier, there is a cost. The nonprofit will also collect your electronics from your home for $50 if it is local, or $100 if outside Philadelphia.

A group of people stand smiling in a parking lot with a truck in the background.
A group of employees at PAR-Recycle in North Philadelphia pose for a photo. The nonprofit employs formerly incarcerated individuals as part of their mission to provide employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated people. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Jones)

PAR-Recycle Works will take apart the products they recieve and recycle the valuable and major pieces from the electronics that can be refurbished and used again. They then sell those pieces to help create revenue to pay their employees.

In the future, PAR-Recycle Works hopes to build and expand the nonprofit to other cities, connect with new industries, and open a space in the longer term.

PAR-Recycle Works is located in the heart of North Philadelphia at 2024 W. Hunting Park Ave. The Facility is open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Individuals who are looking to work with the organization can come to them directly in person or reach out through social media. The website has a chat option to talk with someone live 24/7. PAR-Recycle doesn’t require a high school diploma or any type of educational assessment. They are looking for individuals who have a will to work and an openness to change.

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