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Recycling Obsolete Computers: Old Computers Are Put to New Use

Monday, January 29, 2001 at 8:48 AM

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Ohio's businesses, schools and government offices are facing a new age dilemma. Every 18 months or so technology changes make old computers obsolete. The National Safety Council's Environmental Health Center reported about 20 million personal computers became obsolete in the United States in 1998. Only about 2 million units were recycled. Here in Ohio organizations are looking at ways to combat the problem. And recycling groups throughout the state finding ways to put old computers to good use. 90.3's Tarice Sims reports.

Tarice Sims- The computer-age has offered many people convenience and practicality. As technology improves, manufacturers are offering larger hard drives and faster processors for the same price as older, slower technology. The problem is what to do with those old, slow computers. Some end up as an expensive paper weight, others collect dust in the attic. Diane Beckitt is Assistant Director with the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District. She says unfortunately computers are not disposable.

Diane Beckitt- Certainly a lot of computers are in landfills today, but we’re trying to discourage landfills and computers because of the hazardous components it contains.

TS- Beckitt says that an average monitor contains about 20 pounds of lead and is certainly considered dangerous material. Organizations including the solid waste district are trying to give people options to prevent computers from ending up in landfills.

DB- What we found is we were getting a lot of calls from people who had old dinosaur computer equipment, you know, stored in their home and also from businesses who consistently upgrade their networks and computer systems and therefore have to address the problem of what to do with their old computers.

TS- The Solid Waste District kicked off a recycling program in the summer of 2000 in conjunction with the Computers for Education of Ohio program. Together, they hosted a computer drive, collecting nearly 1,400 monitors, over 1,600 CPU’s, and several thousand more computer parts. The parts are destined for refurbishment or recycling. Some parts are stripped for their metal and may end up in a car. Other parts end up in used, less expensive computers. The non-profit, community-based Stockyard Association has been leading the way in computer collections. They redistribute computers to poorer residents on Cleveland’s west side. Bill Calihan is the Director of the Stockyard Association. He says the older computers may not be the best, but can be sold at a affordable price.

Bill Calihan- Well, we stay 5 or 6 years behind the latest stuff and certainly the latest cost of the stuff has gotten a lot cheaper in the last couple of years, and that’s been a big benefit to those people we work with working class poor people. There are a number of families in the neighborhood that have just gone out and bought a computer and that’s great we do whatever we can to help. But for a lot of people even $500 or $600 is a lot of money and $100 is something that they can scrape together.

TS- Calihan says that buying a used computer is a lot like buying a used car. It is a good thing to know how to fix them if something goes wrong. The Stockyard Association sponsors the Westside Community Computer Center, or WSCCC, where volunteers learn how to fix computers and teach others the same skill. Adam Whitsell is one of those volunteers.

Adam Whitsell- I might not be that familiar with all the names but I can definitely install it and put them where they belong and basically everything has it’s own slot and you can figure it out, it’s easy.

TS- Whitsell reassures newcomers that learning computer maintenance is not time consuming. He was able to pick it up within two weeks of starting with WSCCC. The Computers for Education of Ohio program is state funded through the Department of Corrections and Ohio Penal Industry, or OPI. It uses prison labor to refurbish and recycle computers for use in Educational facilities all over the state. Although some programs like WSCCC cannot recycle everything, the Computers for Education program wastes very little. Ken Kovacht is the Program’s Director.

Ken Kovacht- Almost every part in the computer can be recycled and any system that we have it’s just a matter of identifying what the pieces are and parts are and where they have to be sent.

TS- Kovacht says the refurbished computers sell for $49 apiece. All the proceeds go back into the program including money used to pay the inmates, who make up to $0.62 an hour. Although these programs specialize in computer recycling, everyone involved recognizes a growing need to expand into the recycling of other technology. The Solid Waste district says it doesn’t have a specified timeline to branch out, but it will be looking to accept all electronic equipment soon, meaning fewer items like radios and TV’s will end up in Ohio’s landfills. In Cleveland, I’m Tarice Sims for 90.3 FM.

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