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How Can I Avoid Putting Electronic Garbage in Landfills?

April 2, 2009

in computer hardware,privacy & security

by Gabe Goldberg

Aside from not wanting to clutter landfills with electronic garbage — that’s where solid waste ends up, you know, it doesn’t vanish when loaded in the collection truck — it’s increasingly discouraged or illegal to dispose of our once-precious twinkly gadgets in the normal household waste stream. This is for multiple reasons: Landfills are a limited resource and are often overloaded; electronics will linger forever, never biodegrading; and (worst of all) bad stuff such as chemicals and metals in the mess will leach out and pollute the area.

But — as I’ve learned from my wife — one can’t retain dead and obsolete equipment forever, and museums don’t really want such homeowner detritus. Fortunately, other choices exist: selling, donating to be refurbished, and recycling.

Googling your location with keywords such as

computer refurbish

may locate nearby businesses which buy used equipment. You may not receive much money — electronics lose value pretty quickly – but you’ll get something, and your gear won’t simply be buried somewhere to rust forever.

A more community-spirited approach is donating your goods to a community group. Hundreds of organizations around the country accept equipment for renovation and repair; a computer you’ve replaced which still works can be spiffed up and given new life helping a family, school, or nonprofit group. Many of these organizations are computer user groups with multiple missions such as education, technology problem solving, supporting high school science fairs, helping seniors use evolving technology, and refurbishing computers for use by deserving people.

Since low-budget user groups often operate under the radar, they can be hard to find. Fortunately, an umbrella organization collects them and provides a simple index to them. Visit the APCUG User Group Locator and click your state to locate a group near you. It may have a refurbish/donate project or know of some in the area. For example, in the Washington, DC area, CPCUG, Capital PC User Group, operates Project Reboot which processes thousands of computers every year.

As an added bonus, when you find such a nearby computer group, check out its other offerings. You may find a valuable resource for learning, using, exploring, and enjoying technology, and it can be a place to contribute to your community, helping others with technology.

On a larger scale, the National Cristina Foundation provides computer technology and solutions to give people with disabilities, students at risk, and economically disadvantaged persons the opportunity, through training, to lead more independent and productive lives. It encourages corporations and individuals to donate their surplus and used computers, software, peripherals, and related business technology wherever this
equipment is located.

Finally, for equipment that’s simply dead or too old to be useful, there’s recycling. Many localities operate special programs to safely receive electronics and process it so it’s not only safe to dispose of but all valuable components and materials are removed and exploited. Again, turning to Google, search terms such as

fairfax va computer recycle

will find your local resources.

Gabe Goldberg (, a lifelong computer pro and technology communicator, has written three books and hundreds of articles for audiences including techies, baby boomers and senior citizens. He enjoys sharing tips and pointers that help people use and have fun with technology.

{ 1 comment }

Peggy 04.07.09 at 11:48 am

My problem is not with donating my equipment, but how can I know any information stored on my old hard drive won’t get into the wrong hands? How can I be sure my personal information is removed from my old computers? I’m afraid to let go because of this very issue.

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