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Home / Special Report / Recycling gives new life
to PCs past their prime

Recycling gives new life
to PCs past their prime

Indeed, experts say computer recycling is mushrooming. Marlene Archer–director of New Visions, a Massachusetts-based non- profit organization dedicated to bringing technology to all segments of society–says in the past year the number of computer recyclers nationwide has jumped from “about a dozen” to 20 or 30.
The recycling effort got a jump start, Archer says, when people began to realize that old machines contained environmentally toxic substances, including heavy metals and phosphorous. Some 30 million model 286 and above computers are “out there” and, given a “breath of new life,” a 286 can be a viable machine, she says.
“People don’t really understand computers,” Archer maintains. “They think they have to have the latest and greatest. But for people doing mainly word processing, you don’t need a lot of power.”
In fact, she notes, a graphical user interface now available makes the 286 run like a Windows-based system.
According to an article in the July issue of Wired magazine, the national profile of outdated corporate computers looks like this:
– 65 percent languish in some limbo state of storage;
– 15 percent are trashed;
– 15 percent are resold; and
– 5 percent are donated to schools, charities or non-profit organizations.
Of the burgeoning ranks of computer recyclers noted by Archer, most are non- profit groups and offer services that include providing paper trails for tax purposes, eliminating all hardware disk data and refurbishing the computers. Wired notes that the donation of old machines provides donor corporations with tax benefits and the opportunity for good publicity.
A local attempt to recycle discarded computers is being spearheaded by Northern Telecom Inc. Directory and Operator Services Division, in conjunction with non- profit organizations Science Linkages in the Community and Santa Clara, Calif.-based Computer Recycling Center Inc.
Coined Micrecycle, this collaborative program seeks donations of computers from area companies for refurbishing at Nortel and then use in public schools, Nortel spokesman Douglas Sprei says.
“We had a suspicion there were lots of old computers here in Rochester,” says Sprei, who adds that the idea came from a Nortel employee who became acquainted with the Computer Recycling Center.
Sprei and another Nortel employee went to Santa Clara to learn about the Computer Recycling Center firsthand.
“We replicated it on a small scale here in Rochester,” he says.
Science Linkages in the Community was developed by the American Association for Advancement of Science to enhance the development of science, math and technology. Part of its mission is an effort to bring computers primarily to after-school environments, including day- care centers, church groups, scout troops and summer camps, Executive Director Elizabeth Brauer says. The organization decided to join forces with Nortel in order to combine its program management and non-profit expertise with the technical, manpower and marketing resources afforded by the corporate realm.
Although the company donates the 800-square-foot refurbishing area, Sprei says most of the hands-on work time is donated by Nortel employees.
“People donate their time before work, during lunch, after work, on weekends, or at the manager’s discretion they can spend a few hours of working time to help the program,” Sprei explains.
He adds that plans are under way to expand the program to allow non-Nortel volunteers to participate in the refurbishment process.
Hoping for donations from law firms, small businesses and larger companies, the Micrecycle program accepts model 386 or higher personal computers, as well as Macintosh models II ci or above. The computers are rebuilt for use in selected school districts.
Sprei says the school districts must meet specified criteria before they can participate in the program, including having completed a full-scale technology plan for the district, and on-site availability of a dedicated technology mentor, usually a computer teacher.
What’s in it for Nortel?
“It makes employees feel good. It shows our hearts are in the right place,” says Sprei, who adds that Nortel management exhibits ongoing community commitment through efforts such as the company’s participation in the WXXI Public Broadcasting Council auction, in the United Way of Greater Rochester Inc. campaign and with Flower City Habitat for Humanity Inc.
So far, Micrecycle has refurbished 850 computers, and it plans to rebuild 50 a month through the end of the year.
Computer recycling is not found only in the non-profit sector. Along with his partner Lawrence Weinstein, Ronald Infarinato, co-owner of Computer Renaissance, is building a business based on the computer-recycling premise.
“We saw an opportunity here to buy, sell, and trade new and used computer equipment,” Infarinato says.
Computer Renaissance is a franchise company based in Minneapolis that targets two primary customers: new users who want to get inexpensive first computers, and users who always want the latest and greatest but have no place to unload their current equipment.
Because it is a franchise with 138 outlets, Infarinato says, Computer Renaissance can make large-scale purchases of used equipment, although he acknowledged that the company is interested only in 386 or higher PC models.
“The 286s are not worth a lot,” Infarinato says.
The company offers a free 90-day warranty service on all products sold. Prices for complete systems (personal-computer models 386 and higher) range from $300 to $1,400.
“We’re not here to compete with CompUSA–that’s where you go to get a Pentium (computer) or a top-of-the-line printer or scanner,” Infarinato says. “So, when people come in here and say they want a Pentium, we send them across the street. Likewise, when people go there and say they have $500 to spend, they send them here.”
Mary Anne Donovan is a Rochester- area free-lance writer.

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