What The Heck To Do With Old Tech

June 23, 2011 Uncategorized 9 Comments

So *that's* where all those Gateway 2000 computers went!

I currently have five desktop computers in my apartment, ranging in age from a 1999 Power Mac “Sawtooth” to a 2005 Power Mac G5. In between are three Windows PCs – none newer than 2004 – in various stages of disrepair.

The laptop you’re reading this post on likely has more processing power than all of my computers combined. Le sigh. But that’s not what I’m writing about.

What’s got me thinking is the fact that, for the past 15 years, I’ve been happily obsessed with computers and the purchasing/acquiring thereof. What I haven’t been obsessed with is what happens to all of these metallic menaces once they’re no longer capable of providing the computing experience I desire. I have more mercury in my bedroom than NASA did in the 60’s, people. Now what?

Does a Dell count as an artifact?

In World of Warcraft, one of the first skills an enchanter learns is how to “disenchant” items, breaking them down into component parts in order to enchant or make other items. I wish I had this skill in real life – break down the crap that I acquire and make something usable out of it – but a man can only own so many motherboard clocks. At a certain point, it’s time to throw it away.

Human beings excel at making things, but frankly we’re pretty lame at unmaking things. As Americans we often put all our thoughts into obtaining and acquiring – car, phone, computer. When was the last time you bought a piece of technology and thought about what would happen to it when you didn’t want it anymore? It’s not such a big deal for organic things, but the stuff computers are made out of – mercury, lead, adamantium – doesn’t go away. The plastic in the keyboard I’m typing this on is going to outlive me, my children, my children’s children. How scary is that!

I’ve been doing some digging about what the heck to do with old tech. Here are the most promising and pragmatic that I’ve found:

Create a green job by donating it to Goodwill (thanks, Dell Reconnect!)
Recycle it at Best Buy (free)
Recycle it at Office Depot ($5-$15 depending on the size)
Donate old phones to victims of domestic abuse in your community (thanks, Verizon!)

What do you think? What’s the best way to be a technology geek and not trash the planet upon which we depend for everything?




9 Comments to “What The Heck To Do With Old Tech”

  1. Daniel West
    I'd go for the Dell Reconnect plan, and I do think that a Dell counts as an artifact - in 100 years time!
  2. Martin
    I'm super impressed with the Dell plan, too! Might be using it soon to recycle some Windows PCs that are giving me attitude...
  3. Steve Clay
    Until there's real social pressure to properly recycle tech (and "properly" can be defined) and regulatory & market pressure to create recyclable tech, there won't be much change. I think the growing popularity of macs is helping, as their hardware (mostly via good aesthetic design) holds value a lot longer than any PC I've owned. People are willing to carry around old mac laptops because they don't look silly. The last time I put together a PC, there were very few attractive cases--and it makes a difference; I'm willing to dust off most macs and find some use for them, but even my latest PC looks like crap and though it runs OK I'm itching to replace it. FYI Here's what the brochure for my county's hazardous materials recycle center (who happily accept any electronics) says: "The e-scrap received from both residents and businesses is collected and prepared for pick-up by the County’s recycler. Their state-of-the-art recycling equipment shreds and separates electronics into their original material of plastics, steel, aluminum, precious metals and glass where these materials are made into other products. Their secure, environmentally sound methods eliminate any worry about retiring unwanted equipment generated in Alachua County."
  4. Barb_in_GA
    Agree with everything written above, including the need for social/regulatory pressure. The best solution IMO is to buy for longevity. My 2006 MacBook (bought as a refurbished unit) has served me well. After daily use and much hauling around, she's finally showing some signs of wear and needs a new battery. My daughter and husband, OTOH, have been through several machine upgrades with their PC machines (the carcasses of which litter my garage at this moment). Congratulations on the new album and your recent awards. I'm delighted for you, and will be scrounging pennies to buy your new release soon.
  5. Bryan
    So continuing to use my 2005 iMac isn't only thrifty, it's also the responsible thing to do! Sure, I *want* a shiny new Mac Pro, but this thing continues to do nearly everything I need it to -- and it does it well.
  6. Martin
    Interesting thoughts, all! I'm glad to see that I've got some Mac-lovers as readers. I got my first Mac in 2005 after desiring one forever, and despite their cost I can't imagine going back to Windows full-time. I spend half of my time on a PC keeping the PC running, whereas on a Mac I just spend my time, you know, computing. I used to enjoy keeping PCs running. Now they just make me want to run. I agree that social/regulatory pressure is required, and market pressure is key, too. Americans like myself tend to be especially motivated when something hits my wallet - expensive gas, for instance - or affects puppies/kittens, so until dumping a toxin-laden old computer hits us in the wallet or makes a puppy sad, it's going to be an uphill climb. Macs definitely win in the longevity department. Macs, like good music, are well-crafted and worth keeping around long after the luster has worn off. I still can't get over how much a 10-year-old Mac Pismo laptop (G3!) goes for on eBay. Crazy!
  7. ixM
    Hi Martin! I have already given two computers to Oxfam Belgium (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxfam) after having cleaned them, re-installed them and upgraded them as good as I could with various components that were laying around at home and for which I had no use anymore. They then sell it or give it to people who can't afford to buy new computers. Somehow it fell good to do that as it costs nothing and will benefit to other people I don't even know. Concerning what is now done with most of the old computers, I've seen a few months ago, a documentary on the television where it was explained that India and China were the garbage bin of the world. Computers were sent in containers per ship to India where people would tear them down to get mainly the copper and the gold parts out of them (but also other dangerous materials such as cadmium, lead and mercury). As you can imagine, the conditions in which this recycling is very far from good both for the environment and for the people in charge of doing this. I have been able to remember what the name of the documentary was but I found some interesting links below: http://earth911.com/recycling/electronics/e-waste-harmful-materials/ http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/reports/recycling-of-electronic-waste/ Hopefully things will get better in the future :) P.S. I'm a linux user :p
  8. Daniel West
    So are you comparing Macs to Ragtime?!
  9. LAHs
    My first computer, a little Macintosh, I gave away to a school. My second computer was a Power Mac which I still have. It is too beautiful to ever throw away, the quality of the screen and the feel of the keyboard are not things which should end up in a dump. It sat, dusty and disconnected in my bedroom. But now I have a spectacular iMac. I had a lot of time on my hands recently because of the recession so I decided to teach myself MatLab with a book (which came with software on an included disc) that I bought with good intentions many years ago, and never opened. To my horror I found it would not run on my current iMac, the software was just too old - but I dusted off my Old power Mac, hooked it up, and - it worked! It loaded the disc and ran it happily. So, I spent my summer using my old computer which I bought in the mid '90s to learn stuff I hope will help me get a job which requires up to the minute skills. Soooooo, I am really glad I kept that around, don't be in a hurry to throw old things out.

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