Alternatives to Throwing Out Old Computers

Heap of used computers

The Buddhists call it “returning to a natural state.” Theoretical engineers say it is perfect entropy, or a gradual unwinding of order. And the people you share office space with call it “that hunk of junk.” All describe your old computer.

While your coworkers may not be too concerned about the greater philosophical impact of your old PC they constantly trip over, one thing is certain: They want it gone, pronto.

Your workplace safety hazard is actually a side effect of Moore’s Law, a term of obsolescence coined by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore. He calculated the number of transistors in a chip double every 24 months, a corollary used to describe the good and bad aspects of an industry that regularly creates new products, thereby dooming old devices to the figurative dust heap.

So while the Silicon Valley and its manufacturing divisions continually release hot new tech items, it often is left up to customers to dispose of last year’s passé model. Not sure what to do with your outdated computer? Here are some suggestions:

  • Toss it. While throwing your computer away is an option it’s not necessarily the most recommended for the environment. In some states, simply pitching your computer and monitor into the trash could be illegal due to potential heavy metals that might contaminate the soil. New York, for instance, specifically bans all e-waste disposal items like monitors and TVs from entering the waste stream, but encourages companies to develop acceptable e-recycling programs. Along with the potential toxicity of throwing away your computer, you could risk potential ID theft if any personal or financial data remains on your hard drive.
  • Recycle/donate it: Your community likely has private or public recycling centers that might be interested in the metal inside your machine. In 2004, Dell and Goodwill Industries created a program called ReConnect, in which tech owners are encouraged to drop off unwanted electronics like computers or monitors at any Goodwill center. Since its start, more than 200 million pounds of donated items have been generated. Dell products also can be mailed directly to Dell for free. Other retailers permit donations, such as Staples, Best Buy and Office Depot. An organization called ElectronicsTakeBack even created a Retailers Recycling Report Card that praised those three stores and encouraged other tech vendors like Costco and Walmart to create donating/recycling options.
  • Upgrade the components. Bring your old PC back to life with some hardware improvements to the RAM, hard drive and processor. New versions of hardware are often more energy efficient than earlier versions, so even if you don’t replace your machine you could enjoy lower power bills since you’ll start to save on energy.
  • Make an investment in kids: Some schools welcome donations of newer computers. Schools generally appreciate the gift of computers, whether it comes from one individual or a company that’s changing out a whole fleet, according to EdWeek. Schools or school districts won’t need to purchase extra items from their budgets and more students can benefit from applying the latest lessons with computer donations. IT professionals, though, may still have to confirm the machines work and are compatible with current software specifications.
  • Repurpose the equipment. LifeHacker features a variety of DIY home products made from computer parts, everything from a hard drive converted into a working aquarium to a coffee table made from old circuit boards.

[author] Derrick James teaches computer science and education theory at his local college. [/author]

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