TechMan: Computer recycling: It's free and easy

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On the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, no one was worried about what to do with old computers.

But by the time Earth Day 2010 was celebrated on Thursday, disposal and recycling of electronic waste had become a major environmental issue.

Greenpeace International estimated the amount of electronic waste globally at 25 million to 50 million tons. And much of that waste contains toxic chemicals such as mercury, cadmium, lead and beryllium oxide to name a few. TechMan likes to try new foods, but beryllium oxide pancakes with cadmium syrup doesn't seem very tasty.

Luckily we have an organization in Pittsburgh that not only refurbishes and resells used computers and computer components, but breaks down inoperable ones and sends the parts to responsible recyclers.

That organization is Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

David Tibiczyk, Goodwill's vice president of marketing and development points out several reasons for donating your old computers or computer parts to Goodwill:

• It's free. Not only is it free but you can take a tax deduction for the fair market value of your donation. That value is for you to determine. (Come on now, that 10-year-old monitor you paid $700 for isn't still worth $650.)

• It's safe. Goodwill will wipe the hard drive in your old machine to Department of Defense standards and if that doesn't completely expunge it, the drive will be physically destroyed.

• It's easy. Used computers or components can be dropped off at any Goodwill store or attended collection point. Goodwill also will pick up large donations from schools, organizations and businesses.

• It's charitable. Goodwill has a workforce of people for taking apart or refurbishing computers. About a fifth of the donated computers are refurbished and the rest are reduced to parts or recycled.

• It encourages reuse. Refurbished computers are sold at Goodwill's computer store at 2600 E. Carson St. on the South Side.

In a new program, all Goodwill stores now sell "Good to Go Computers." This is a complete refurbished system in a box and includes a Dell GX270 Computer Tower with Pentium 4 Processor 3 Ghz, 512 MB RAM, 80 GB hard drive, CD burner, a Microsoft XP Professional operating system, 17-inch CRT monitor, mouse, keyboard, power cords, and illustrated set-up instructions.

Systems range from $199 to $249. Although these are obviously not cutting-edge computers, they are perfectly good for many routine uses such as e-mail and Web crawling.

• It's environmentally responsible. Any computers or parts that Goodwill does not sell are shipped off to recyclers. Goodwill only uses recyclers certified by Dell Inc. That way you can be sure your old monitor doesn't end up poisoning some poor unprotected foreign worker paid a pittance to sort through electronic waste.

• It's Mac-friendly. Apple fans should know that volunteers from Pittsburgh area Macintosh users' groups refurbish and deconstruct Apple products. The Goodwill computer store sells refurbished older model Macs.

The group has refurbished 814 Apple computers since Jan. 1, 2009. Since the effort began seven or eight years ago in a member's garage, before the affiliation with Goodwill, 2,423 Macs of all types have been brought back to life.

Free, safe, easy, charitable, reusable, environmentally responsible, Mac friendly -- for all these reasons when you have old computers to dispose of, drop them off at your local Goodwill store.

But remember, even the IRS is not going to believe that 256 Mhz Pentium II with the 20 Mb hard drive and black and white monitor is worth a grand.

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