In the Spotlight

Substation33 – a YFS social enterprise

Substation33 is a social enterprise that recycles electronic trash into electronic treasure whilst giving volunteering and work experience opportunities to the long term unemployed. Substation33 is one of 3 social enterprises at YFS, a not for profit organisation that delivers services in Logan and surrounding areas. Social enterprises are businesses that trade to intentionally tackle social issues, improve communities, tackle environmental concerns and provide access to employment and training, or help the environment. Substation33 does all this whilst also fitting perfectly within YFS’s mission of building independence and participation.

Using the power of the marketplace to solve the most pressing societal problems, Substation33 specialises in electronic waste collection and processing, diverting e-waste from landfill. Founder and Development Manager Tony Sharp embarked on this venture that has seen 50 trainees entering or re-entering the workforce and 10 new positions created in house.

Substation33 offers an inclusive space where people of all backgrounds can learn new skills and transition to employment. It boasts a team of technical specialists who develop and commercialise innovative products and services. At times they do this alongside community members who contact them with a need for Substation33’s expertise. For example, Space Plant Vertical Garden TelePLANTathic was born when Shane from Space Plants Vertical Gardening specialists approached Substation33 with an issue:

He had a ‘flower power’ plant sensor that measured light, temperature, moisture and fertiliser levels and talked to a phone app so the plant’s progress could be checked. However, if the person tending the garden went on holiday, they couldn’t monitor it. Shane requested that Substation33 assist him in talking to the sensor via data stored on the internet.

The team at Substation assisted Shane with the software and electronics needed to monitor his vertical garden remotely. They used a Raspberry Pi computer to talk to his sensor and push this data onto the internet. It wakes up and sleeps for part of the day to save power. They also designed a circuit so the pi could control a water pump in the vertical garden from the internet. They used recycled laptop batteries for energy storage and charge them with a solar panel.

Queensland’s Chief Entrepreneur and television program Shark Tank’s Judge, Steve Baxter, was very encouraging of the venture during his recent visit to Substation33: “This is a great example of a social enterprise. Helping the community and high-tech work experience.”

Substation33 boasts a myriad of innovative design solutions from solar packs made from old laptop batteries to 3D printers designed from dumped parts. Other green inventions include: electric bikes, and a flashing road flooded sign to alert motorists.

This flashing road alert is Substation33’s leading innovation. They developed the Flooded Road Smart Warning System in partnership with Logan City Council.  The technology has been installed in 35 locations around Logan and is now being delivered to other councils.  The system provides an immediate warning to road users in the event of road flooding via bright, flashing LED signs. It also sends alerts to council via email and SMS for monitoring and maintenance purposes.  Integration with third-party mapping, alerts and workflow systems is possible via an API.  The signs are solar-powered with several days of battery backup.  Substation33 provide monitoring and maintenance services to ensure ongoing reliability.

In an exciting educational initiative Substation33 focused on the production of a smaller form factor 3D printer that is easier to construct and use. It makes for a great learning tool and an excellent teaching aid for teachers. The team are currently working on version 4. This printer will be provided at low cost using recycled and 3D printed parts and will be delivered as a kit. It will provide an interactive experience where students will learn to build, maintain and repair each system. This will give the students an opportunity to learn about mechanical and electrical design elements. Nathan Shaw, 3D Printer Area Supervisor stated he is currently delighted to have recently lost his entire team. “One person is now leading the 3D print area in another business” he beamed. Nathan is now looking for people who would like to learn how to create 3D models including the design and repair function. “If they’re interested and keen to learn, we have a role” he said.

Emma Green is Substation’s Transitions to Workforce Officer. She stated that she loves watching people taking steps forward: “that is what this organisation is about. We hope that they leave with new skills and confidence. It is so exciting when we see that happen regularly when trainees and volunteers move onto other businesses.”

Substation33 conducts electronic waste collection and processing, electronic waste audits and data destruction, both electronic and physical. They have full computer workshop facilities and sell computers from as little as $100.

Electronic waste is the fastest growing waste in Australia. Most electronic appliances such as computers and televisions can be reused or recycled. To ensure the continued growth of Substation33 they are always in need of electronic waste. Substation accepts computers, monitors, servers, office equipment, televisions, household appliances, all obsolete or unwanted electronic equipment.

To support the enterprise, schedule an e-Waste pick up, or find out more.

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