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Sunday, October 26, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 7/19/2003

The machine

Retire your PC safely, securely

Old cars get traded in, sold, hauled away by charitable organizations, or junked. Deliverymen haul away that old refrigerator or kitchen range when they deliver the new unit. Household castoffs go into the trash or yard sales.

Computers defy almost everything that's been written and said about the “throw-away society.”

About 20 million personal computers go into retirement each year, and studies suggest that 75 percent never get pitched. Instead, they wind up in closets, attics, basements, and other storage areas. One office down the hall uses an old PC system unit as a doorstop.

Some people won't part with an old computer because it cost a lot, still works, and they think it might be useful one day. Some worry that outsiders might revive and misuse personal files from the hard disk. Most, however, just don't know what to do with the old clunker.

Tossing a computer into the trash definitely is not a good option. Computer components contain potentially toxic materials. There are about 2 pounds of lead in the typical computer monitor, for instance. Mercury and cadmium are among the other materials that can harm the environment.

If the computer is even a couple of years old, it may be difficult to sell, especially with so many people overestimating the value of their old computer. Check actual values online by searching for “used computer prices” or compare prices at auction sites like eBay (www.ebay.com).

And potential buyers should beware, when they can buy a new computer system with new technology and a warranty for about $500.

Storing an old computer for a few years actually is a good alternative to improper disposal - if you have the space. Your personal data will be secure, and the components won't pose an environmental hazard.

Recycling and reuse, however, is an excellent alternative.

Some computer manufacturers, for instance, have “product takeback” programs in which customers can return old gear. There's usually a small fee to cover shipping costs. For information, check your computer manufacturer's Web site. Just search for the manufacturer's name on the Internet.

A few retail stores also have takeback programs, either on a regular basis or during special promotions.

Area charitable organizations or educational institutions also may be eager to accept donations of certain computers.

Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has an excellent national guide (www.ce.cmu.edu/GreenDesign/comprec/resources.html) to resources for recycling and donating all kinds of computer gear. There's also information about the environmental problems associated with disposing of computers in landfills.

An Internet search for “computer donations” will produce hundreds of other sources of information.

Before donating, be sure to eliminate personal data, including old files, e-mails, and financial information that others could misuse. Just deleting the files and emptying the Recycle Bin may not be enough. Deleted files can still be revived.

Do an Internet search for “sanitizing hard disk” for details on keeping that old computer from telling tales.



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