January 18

Revenge of the Machines

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This post has nothing to do with food, nutrition, or low carb. Rather it addresses a technological problem that recently blipped on our own radar screens and that, it occurred to me, might be blipping on others’ screens as well. What in the world do you do with an old computer? Or three?

As regular readers of my blog will know, Mike and I recently divested ourselves of two part time residences, consolidating their contents into a single third space. (Well, that and 3 large self-storage units.) All three houses were fully furnished, including all three home offices. Since what we mainly do now is write and research and we can do that anywhere we have a computer and an internet connection, it seemed to make sense at the time to have everything we needed wherever we landed. Now, recently awash in used electronics, I’m not so sure.

When the great possession migration occurred, we were suddenly way overstocked with machines. Multiple desktop computers, spare laptops, extra fax machines and printers. I felt like Dorothy and friends in the Cowardly Lion’s forest: Computers and faxes and printers, oh my!

One of them, an ancient clunky Businessland laptop that weighs about 12 pounds, actually uses DOS commands. Amazingly, we were able to plug it in, boot it up, issue it a few commands, and lo and behold, still stored there were early iterations of what became Protein Power. (That and a saved copy of a scorchingly hot letter Mike wrote–but thankfully never sent–to the GM of the Chicago Bears about the pitiful performance by Jim McMahon the previous Sunday should tell the savvy reader how old this relic of a machine is.) Heaven help us if such important documents should fall into the wrong hands; we quickly realized we’d better harvest these dusty gems and wipe the disk.

We’ve had to sort out which machines will work best in this home office and have found good homes for the working spares, but some–like the clunker–are so old and out of date that they just need to be wiped clean and put out to pasture.

But how? You can’t just throw a computer in the trash heap.

Just as I was puzzling over this dilemma, an article appeared in the local paper entitled “What should you do with that old and slow computer?” Eureka, said I! Problem solved.

The author, J.D. Biersdorfer of the New York Times, provided a whole laundry list of options, from reusing to recycling to returning. I attempted to find a link to the article from several press archives, but to no avail. With apologies, and proper credit, I’ll reprint his answer here:

Q: Is there a proper way to dispose of an old computer?

A: The average computer system contains a variety of recyclable material and some of it can be reused. But computers and other electronic equipment can also contain toxic chemicals that can damage the environment if dumped in a landfill.

Reusing, recycling and returning old computers are three options that are more environmentally friendly than putting a PC out with the trash. If the machine still works, you could donate it to a charitable organization for reuse. The National Cristina Foundation www.cristina.org, for example, finds new homes for old computer equipment throughout its nationwide network of schools, public agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Another nonprofit organization, Share the Technology (www.sharetechnology.org) has a database of listings for people wishing to donate used equipment, as well as a page of Web links devoted to recycling resources.

If your computer is dead or dying, returning it to the manufacturer or a qualified company to salvage the recyclable materials and dispose of the rest is another option. Many computer companies have their own environmental policies and recycling services posted on their Web sites.

If you find yourself in a similar circumstance, with an old computer collecting dust on the office shelf, you can donate it or contact the manufacturer to see if they recycle the reusable parts of their old machines. You can clear out some space, unclutter your life, and do some good in the bargain. Just remember to harvest your data first.


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