Perth teenager upcycles old electronics and computers to give them back to those in need

At a house in Perth’s south-east, broken iPads, laptops, PCs, and phones are stacking up the walls, waiting for Sam’s nifty hands to breathe new life into them.

Sam Thomas, 18, runs an e-waste collection point where he repairs broken and thrown-away electronics to give away for free to those in need.

“We have… maybe 60, 70 desktop PCs that are either needing to be fixed or that are fixed and ready to go,” he said.

Sam has a shelf stacked with repaired laptops that need compatible chargers.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

The hordes of computers and laptops started arriving after a single post on social media, and Sam’s Spares was born.

“We did a post one day just asking for anyone with junk that they wanted to get rid of, to drop it off,” Sam said.

“You might look at a computer that’s 10 years old and think it might not be usable.”

But Sam says basic upgrades are often all that’s needed for a piece of tech to meet the needs of most people.

A man working in a computer in a cramped workshop full of tools and electronics.
Sam disassembles old electronics for parts in a small workshop.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

“I like computers. I’ve always had a very big interest in the hardware side, and later on the coding side,” Sam said.

Sam’s project has grown beyond his local community in the outer Perth suburb of Gosnells, with some willing to travel long distances to support his work.

“We’ve seen people come from Fremantle, some from Bunbury. We have people messaging us saying, ‘we’re getting together a load of stuff for you!’,” Sam said.

A home to grow community spirit

A woman smiling while standing in a doorway, looking out of her house.
Diane Lloyd runs the Jacaranda House community centre, which is where Sam fixes computers.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

Generous donations from the community mean Sam sometimes has hundreds of old computers, laptops and phones, which need a space to be stored and repaired.

Most of it sits in a carport of a house that Sam’s family has repurposed as a community hub.

Sam’s mother Diane Lloyd said she saw the home as an opportunity to rekindle a sense of local connection.

Two men hold a big computer in a carport filled with electronics.
Sam’s stepfather Jonathan Lloyd helps him repair and upcycle electronics.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

The Jacaranda House offers a place for neighbours and locals in the community to meet.

Ms Lloyd said people who turn up and meet Sam for the first time often think he is older than he is.

“They don’t believe that he’s 18. I think that he’s got a very mature view of the world,” she said.

People are often also surprised to hear Sam is autistic and has Tourette’s syndrome.

A man in a black shirt holding a computer monitor next to a rack full of monitors.
Computer monitors donated to Sam’s Spares.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

He says the conditions manifest in a variety of ways, and seldom mirror how they’re represented in movies and television.

“I come across as a very standard person,” he said.

Sam hopes people don’t overlook his ability to help when they learn about his conditions.

Recycling is the last option

A big part of Sam’s project is reducing the amount of e-waste that ends up in landfill, which is a large contributor to Australia’s emissions.

Old keyboards and other electronics in a crate.
Less than a fifth of global e-waste is properly recycled.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

Ms Lloyd says sustainability is part of their family ethos.

“You start researching what tiny percentage of [e-waste] is actually being recycled,” she said.

“When we say ‘e-waste’, the things that people are throwing away are not waste. Some of the stuff is really valuable.

“So if Sam can do his part to stop things going in the rubbish bin, that’s brilliant.”

A sign saying rethink, refuse, reduce, reuse, refurbish, repair, repurpose, recycle.
Reducing and reusing are more effective ways of minimising waste than recycling.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

Sam emphasised that even if old electronics are beyond repair, there’s a proper way of disposing them.

“Even if you want to drop stuff off to be sent to the proper facilities… we will take everything. Even if it’s broken,” he said.

A man sitting on a bench in a workshop eating a snack.
Sam hopes to one day own a computer history museum.(ABC News: Cason Ho)

The teenager has dreams of expanding the project beyond the confines of his family’s house.

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