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January 18th, 2001

Computer Recycling

What happens to old computers when they die?

That seems to be a pretty logical question, given that the things are deemed obsolete in two years (or less). But what do you do with your old box? Trash it? Seems a bit of a waste. You can sell it to a Computer Renaissance-type store, but it’s moreso for their profit and less for the goodness of recycling.

If you’d like to donate your PC, there’s a nifty site called the National Computer Donation Database that’ll hook you up with the proper folks in your area. But if you’d like to truly recycle it, down to the components, it seems to be tough. There was a piece on Wild Chicago about a year ago spotlighting a factory in Chicago that did just that. They’d actually melt down the silicon, gold on connectors, and so forth and use them as other objects or sell them straight up. But these places seem rare.

It’s scary to think about how many computers are out there in the junkyards, though… and I know my old VIC-20, 64C, and 128D are among them! -pm


Posted in Technology

FROM: Ryan
DATE: Thursday January 18, 2001 -- 11:24:20AM
My one previous computer I still have, my Laser 128EX (Apple II compatible). It's actually hooked up to a 12" monochrome screen in my computer room... I have so much crap on there (journals, lyrics, poems, stories, programs I wrote, etc.) that I like to periodically go back through everything.

As far as gaming systems, the only one I ever owned (and my dad still has it) is the Odyssey 2... someday I'll have that hooked back up, too.

I'm sure Terry will chime in here with some valuable perspective from one who loves vintage hardware.

FROM: Maria
DATE: Thursday January 18, 2001 -- 12:57:33PM
What happens to old computers when they die? My dad buys them, that's what. He recently bought five, yes five, Macintosh SEs identical to the other way-beyond-obsolete one we already had. Simply because they were only $1 each. We also have an Apple IIe and a few regular computers.

FROM: Terry Murphy
DATE: Friday January 19, 2001 -- 2:15:06AM
Ryan - I'm happy to hear you still have the Laser running. I still run my Apple IIe (the same one I used to access GEnie) occasionally, and I also run Apple IIgs (one of my favorite computers ever!) stuff also.

Computer recycling is quite a perplexing problem. For the really classic/collectible stuff (pre-1980, and some 80's/90's stuff), it is a tragedy to see that stuff stripped for gold, since the equipment is so rare and historical. For much of the mid-period stuff (say, 1980 through the mid 1990's) supply far outdistances demand, particularly for the truly worthless stuff (e.g. all of those 286 IBM clones). This stuff must mostly get scrapped, but fortunately the supply is not enormous. And there is a huge supply of machines since the mid-1990's (when the industry really blew up), but the hardware is still useful, fortunately, and deserves to be re-used instead of scrapped. Indeed, a lot of new computer purchases are for second or third computers, as people are starting to not retire their old machines, but find some other use for them.

What worries me is when that newest class of machines is obsolete (such that nobody would find them useful), there will be a serious eco problem on our hands. There are a LOT of machines out there, and only a portion of a computer's materials are recyclable (and some portions, such as the monitor, are considered toxic waste!)

I really hope that old hardware can be used to help bridge the digital divide (particularly in developing nations), but I'm not entirely optimistic that's the right approach.

FROM: Robert
DATE: Friday January 19, 2001 -- 12:47:00PM
My big bro used to have a Tandy in the early to mid-80's. It wasn't good for more than games.

FROM: Ryan
DATE: Friday February 16, 2001 -- 3:23:10PM
A related story about a MD-based company.

DATE: Saturday January 1, 2005 -- 3:06:05 pm

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