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Old Computers are Given a New Lease on Life in Alameda County
by Deborah Orrill,
It has been said that the computer industry
reinvents itself every 18 months. In terms of technological advancement,
each year sees a doubling of PC performance speed and storage capacity.
Apart from the obvious benefits of these improvements, a darker side of
progress is emerging in the form of literally millions of computers being
retired every year. It is estimated that more computers will be retired
than are currently sold. If your company is looking for a place to donate
old business computers, printers, and related electronics, there is a
solution in sight.
As corporations continue to replace their
computer systems, an immense number of outdated electronics are relegated
to back rooms and closets. Although these electronics are not the latest
and greatest technology, they are generally working units that, given
some elbow grease and computer know-how are capable of being renewed.
For those units that are not upgradeable, they can be stripped of their
components and precious metals can be recycled.
“Sounds great,” you might
say, “but who’s going to take on this mammoth challenge?”
Who is going to take the time to collect, truck, recover, upgrade, or
salvage old computers, printers and other business electronics? This may
be the business of the future, but it requires staffing, vehicles, facilities,
and most importantly, a unique and computer-savvy resourcefulness unknown
to most. If such an enterprise sounds too good to be true, let me assure
you, it’s not. At the Alameda County Computer Resource Center (ACCRC),
such activities are the main “components” for a successful
nonprofit that takes corporate and miscellaneous “junk” electronics
and transforms them into another person’s treasure. As a result
of said activities, ACCRC is preventing the economically disadvantaged
of today from becoming the technologically disadvantaged of tomorrow.
Besides protecting the environment by
recycling electronic waste, ACCRC provides technical training to disadvantaged
individuals. The organization also distributes 30 to 50 Pentium-level
computers a week to nonprofit organizations, schools, libraries, economically
disadvantaged individuals, and developing countries. ACCRC designs its
rebuilt computers to match the needs of recipients, with little or no
cost to the recipient. It also provides a year of free repair and maintenance
for all units distributed.
ACCRC accepts tax-deductible donations
from individuals, businesses and affiliated organizations as well as any
computer systems, working and non-working. “Everything is recycled,
from mini-towers to mainframes, regardless of how obsolete or proprietary
the technology might be,” stated James Burgett, founder and executive
director of ACCRC. Burgett began this operation in a spare bedroom in
Marin County with virtually no money. The organization is now housed in
Berkeley with a satellite facility in Novato, California.
“Computers are becoming obsolete
sooner than in the past,” continued Burgett, “namely due to
the advent of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997. This legislation enables
corporations to depreciate their computer equipment in the second year,
and then donate it to educational organizations or non-profit operations
that are reconditioning the computers for schools, grades K-12. It used
to be that new computers were bought and retired in three to five years;
now it’s more like one to two years.” When it comes to old
mainframes, obsolete and proprietary equipment, Burgett takes these units
and resells them to specialty equipment dealers. Otherwise, businesses
are faced with giving them away or junking them, and paying someone to
haul them away as well.
The company tests units, strips the components
that can be used for other systems, and fills a 40-yard bin with scrap
components every week.” Secondary recyclers accept circuit boards,
plastic, and steel. The steel cases go to a metal recycler, and the cables,
made primarily of copper wire, are stripped of their insulation and sold
to scrap dealers. Computers are also stripped of motherboards, mice, VGA
and Ethernet Cards, keyboards, memory, and software.
The cathode ray tubes (CRTs) are the most
problematic components however, because they contain lead, which protects
the viewer from radiation. As long as the monitor remains intact, it isn’t
regarded as hazardous; but break the tube, or even remove it from its
plastic housing, and you have a hazardous waste disposal problem. According
to current regulations, the tubes must be shipped whole to avoid being
classified as a hazardous material. This is a problem that ACCRC and other
reuse and recycling operations have in transporting the material. Burgett
explained, “It costs three to five times more to ship the whole
CRT; if we could break them first, and then ship them in sealed steel
drums, it would make everything easier.” ACCRC ships the CRTs to
Computer Recyclers of America in San Diego at it’s own expense.
ACCRC is working with the Materials for the Future Foundation, a nonprofit
organization that supports the combined goals of waste prevention, reuse,
recycling and economic development in order to find a better solution.
ACCRC is leading the way when it comes
to providing non-profits throughout the world with technology. Computers
are funneled to places such as Latvia, Cuba, Cambodia, Uganda, Afghanistan
and Africa. Among those benefiting from ACCRC are Cheeta, a nonprofit
organization working with endangered species by providing safe breeding
information in the field; Info Net, a medical symptomatology database
and diagnosis service providing medical information to rural Cuban medical
clinics; and the Cambodian Defenders Project, an international legal group
attempting to free innocent detainees.
ACCRC has also provided computers to
local Bay Area groups, such as the Marin AIDS Project, Project Inform,
Marin County Office of Education, YWCA, Children’s Counseling Center,
West Berkeley Senior Center, East Bay Conservation Corps, We the People,
Oakland Police Department, Delancey Street Foundation, and the Arts Council
of Napa Valley.
Currently, Burgett is in search of additional
grant money and financial donations to facilitate the ACCRC reuse, training,
and donations program. “The more grants we get, the more computers
we can give away; it’s that simple.”
If you are a business with a backroom
or closet filled with outdated computers, you may want to contact the
ACCRC. For large quantities, ACCRC can pick up your electronic surplus,
and turn it around into useable equipment for nonprofit organizations
and those in need, while providing your business with a tax deduction
in the process. It’s a win-win situation!
—Printed with permission from
Alameda County Computer Resource Center,