Need to recycle your old computers? You’re not alone…

For years, I built my own computers from parts.  I would research everything online, make my list, and then head over to Milwaukee PC, where I was lucky enough to enjoy a bulk discount. I used it often in the course of building computers for not only myself, but friends, family, and clients.   Whenever an older computer would die for good, I would save it so that I could harvest the memory, cd-rom drive, floppy drive, IDE cables, hard drives, and other goodies.  Over the years, my modest accumulation grew to epic proportions – not only did I have 10-15 computers at any given time, I usually had 5 or 6 different types of keyboards to, 8 or 9 15″ monitors, and several 30 gallon rubbermaid bins full of things like IDE cables, network cables, old video cards, and countless other components.

Another factor in the amount of computer clutter I had to contend with was relating to branding.  For example, an IBM PC, as you are likely aware, is not compatible with an Apple computer. Of course, as I learned when I tried to take apart my Apple IIE, they were all but impossible to work on – parts were actually welded in sometimes.  And neither of them were compatible with the old proprietary Compaq computers, where in order to even open the case, you had to have a special tool which could only be obtained at great cost, if you could find one at all.

Luckily, computer equipment has become much faster, cheaper, smaller, and more standardized in the ensuing years. Just for example: when I was 19 or 20,  my personal computer was a 486 with 4MB of ram.  I browsed with Lynx, a text only browser, because I couldn’t afford a computer that could run windows, and in fact, greatly preferred the DOS command prompt anyways.  DOSTREE was all the GUI I needed.  I saved up something like $400 in order to buy 4MB of additional ram, no small feat when you’re waitressing for 2.33 an hour plus tips, as I was at the time.  Think about that folks.  I spent that much money, not for 4 gigabytes (which is what I have in my current computer) but for 4 megabytes.  There are 1024 megabyes in 1 gigabyte, if that helps you to visualize just how expensive RAM really was back then.  So, keeping all of that stuff around made perfect sense.  If a computer’s CPU died, I could still harvest the RAM and many other components to upgrade my other workstations, or give a power supply to a friend who needed one, or swap out a customer’s broken CD-ROM drive, at a fraction of the cost, though admittedly at the cost of having a lot of old computers stacked up in the closets.

Last year, when my computer started getting too outdated and slow to work efficiently, I started looking around at reviews for motherboards and processors, and decided for the first time to buy a pre-made system for a few reasons.  One, because the cost of buying all the parts and putting them together seemed to actually be a bit higher than just buying a pre-made computer at the time.  Two, because I am no longer a  hardware geek, and don’t really have the time or inclination to re-learn the specs on every processor, motherboard, case, etc. every couple of years.  It’s a lot of work keeping up to date on hardware, since it changes every 5 minutes!  Three, I no longer see the point in keeping all of this older equipment around when it’s not even compatible with newer systems.  Fourth, and perhaps most important: most older technology was not energy star compliant, so to fix and run older computer systems in this day and age, when I can get a newer computer that users only about 1/4 of the energy of my older PC’s, seems like a waste on many levels.

So, I have been trying to gather all of my outdated equipment together and find new homes for it.  I was able to give a couple of workstations to a friend who wanted to build a geeky project in his spare time.  I also gave a couple of workstations to friends who wanted to keep their kids from trashing their real computers. I still had a lot of parts left though.  In many cities, mine included, you have to pay to dispose of old computers at the landfill.  Goodwill won’t take them either.  I know they’re useful to someone, and I don’t want them to go into the landfill because it’s not the environmentally responsible thing to do.  I found a local computer company that claimed they would take them in order to use the parts to make computers to give to the women’s shelter.  I thought that sounded fantastic.  I contacted them and got a response asking for my address and the time and date to pick them up, but after I sent my reply, I never heard back from them.  Another dead end.  So, I have started to look around for other creative ways to dispose of them without sending them to a landfill.  In the course of my search, I came up with some useful information.

If you are looking for ways to recycle your old equipment, give these links a try:

Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) – This grassroots coalition engages in research and advocacy to help find solutions to e-waste concerns.
myGreenElectronics – Local ewaste collection sites.
MRMrecycling – Local ewaste collection sites.
Electronics TakeBack Coalition – Chart of ewaste laws & pending legislation.

Other suggestions are of course welcome as well! I’d love to hear what other people do to recycle their old computers.

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Jessica Franke is the owner of Green Web Design, a full service Website Design, Web Hosting, Domain Registrar, and Online Marketing firm.  She is also the owner of 50 States Classifieds, and has been providing Free Classifieds online since 2002.  For more articles written by Jessica Franke, visit her blog.

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