Should you donate or recycle that old PC?

If there's life left in a system you no longer need, it's easy to find the machine a new home, and if it's useless, to dispose of it safely.

Not every computer user turns his or her attic into a graveyard for outdated, useless PCs the way I do, as I described in a post last week on the safe and sane way to dispose of an old hard drive.

But before you don the goggles and break out the power tools, consider whether there isn't some mileage left in the drive, as well as in the PC you removed it from. It has never been easier to find a nonprofit willing to sanitize and refurbish old computers.

However, if the system has indeed chomped its last bit, there are plenty of organizations that will ensure that it's disposed of responsibly, including the device's original vendor, in many cases.

Can you donate that old computer?
Just because you've run out of uses for an old desktop or notebook PC doesn't mean somebody else won't find it usable. To determine whether a computer is a candidate for donation, read TechSoup.org's Ten tips for donating a computer.

Among the nonprofit's tips is a link to a page that lets you find PC refurbishers by U.S. ZIP code. TechSoup.org also provides links to free programs that remove your personal information prior to donating. However, the organization recommends that you leave the PC's operating system intact, if possible, and that you include the original software and documentation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's eCycling site lists information on finding a local electronics-donation center and provides links to the donation and recycling programs offered by manufacturers and government agencies. The EPA site also has an extensive FAQ on electronics recycling and reuse.

In addition to the electronics-recycling resources listed on the EPA's eCycling site, Goodwill Industries offers tips for donating a computer.

Keep PC toxins out of the environment
If that old PC has truly reached the end of the road, don't just toss it in the garbage or dump it in the local landfill. Some of the components inside the case use toxic chemicals that can leech into the environment. In fact, improper disposal of electronics equipment is illegal in California and other states.

Last November, the TV news magazine 60 Minutes ran a segment on the toxins in electronics equipment that are finding their way into the land, watersheds, and us. Much of this toxic residue ends up in dumps overseas. (60 Minutes is owned by CBS. CNET News is published by CBS Interactive, a unit of CBS.) The Electronics TakeBack Coalition provides a wealth of information on ways to combat pollution from electronics waste.

We may not celebrate it until April 22 this year, but every day is Earth Day, after all.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

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