Recycle That Computer
Friday, January 30, 2004
Posted by: Charles Oriez
According to Tim Koch of Softchoice, a Colorado Springs HP reseller, companies buy new desktop computers for their employees once every two to three years. They then have to dispose of the old desktops. Because of that, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has identified electronics as the fastest growing portion of the municipal solid waste stream. It estimates that by the end of next year as many as 315 million obsolete computers could end up in landfills, contributing millions of pounds of plastic, lead, mercury and other potentially dangerous elements into the waste stream. Japan, Europe and some U.S. states are enacting laws to keep PCs out of landfills, either through mandatory recycling or tax incentives. In California, the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003 will mandate recycling fees of up to $10 to be collected on every computer sold in that state after April 1, 2004.
Manufacturers and retailers like Dell and Best Buy have started programs to dispose of old equipment, usually for a small fee. Recycling centers like Eco Cycle in Boulder, Colorado, will accept old equipment for disposal, also for a fee.
There is a new alternative that benefits society and allows companies and individuals to avoid costly disposal fees. Faced with rising costs and lowering tax revenues, some schools are soliciting donations of used computers. The Rocky Mountain School, a charter school in Denver, Colorado, recently received a donation of 25 machines. Rita Gibson from RMS reports that their school's entire technology department budget, based on using donated machines, is less than a nearby public school's budget for Microsoft licenses alone.
Businesses donating directly to schools frequently have problems. If you have Windows on your desktops, your site license may not be valid once the box leaves your site. Some boxes may have defective interface cards, monitors or hard drives. Security or privacy concerns may preclude making a donation with an intact hard drive containing all of your sensitive customer data. And let's face it, matching computers with schools is time consuming.
Fortunately, the non-profit sector has come up with a solution to these problems. Businesses wanting to donate computers can visit http://www.techsoup.org/recycle/donate to find a computer recycling center near them. Visit their recycled hardware section, plug in your zip code or state, and they will identify recycling and refurbishing centers near you.
For the past three months, I've been working with the Jared Polis Foundation's Community Computer Connection in Boulder, Colorado. Businesses wanting to donate computers contact them, and either drop off small numbers of machines at a Boulder or Denver location, or make arrangements for a hauler doing business with Polis to pick up larger quantities. Coors Brewery and several other corporations in the Denver area make regular donations to Polis. Defective parts get replaced and hard drives get wiped out, or in some cases machines are stripped for usable parts. Polis is a Microsoft-certified refurbisher, which means that it can install copies of Windows 98 or Windows 2000 on machines for a $5 license fee, and then donate the machines to other non-profits such as schools. They've also created a small pilot project in association with the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club and CLUE (Colorado Linux Users and Enthusiasts) to install the Red Hat distribution of Linux on some machines for schools that have converted from Windows to Linux. Polis estimates that they donated 2,500 machines this year to schools and community organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs, technology retraining programs and others.
The STRUT (STudents Recycling Used Technology) program in Oregon supplied more than 35,000 machines to schools throughout the state before it closed its doors this fall. And Mark Kleine from the Oklahoma City Chapter reports that they have been supporting the efforts of Sooner AMBUCS in their area.
Regardless of where you are, chances are good that there is at least one nearby non-profit that will act as a go-between for your business and area non-profits. That permits you to put your unwanted computer equipment to good use for a few more years.