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Jun 4, 2009

Recycle Your PC the Right Way

Don't just toss out your old machine when you bring a new one. Here's the eco-friendly way to get rid of old hardware.

Bought a brand-spanking-new PC for the holidays? You're probably feeling pretty good about yourself. Not so fast. What do you plan to do with your old system? Don't just stash it in your basement or a closet, where it will come back to haunt you during next year's spring cleaning. Clearing the clutter out early will earn you a black belt in feng shui.

If your system still works, the best move is to donate it to a family member or local charity. Earth 911 (earth911.org), the CEA's myGreenElectronics.org, and the Electronic Industries Alliance (www.eiae.org) all have resources for finding a donation center in your area. But if the system's truly farkakte, be responsible and recycle it. Here's how to get it ready for retirement.


Make sure you have all the files you might need from the system. You can back up to an external drive using the included software or the Windows backup utility (for XP Pro users, you can find this in the Start menu under Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Backup; XP Home users can find the Ntbackup.exe program on the Windows XP disc. You can also use boxed software, such as ShadowProtect Desktop 3.1 ($79.95, www.storagecraft.com) or Paragon Drive Backup ($49.95, www.drive-backup.com); online backup solutions, such as SOS Online Backup or the free DriveImage XML (www.runtime.org); or a free utility such as FolderShare.


Although a recycled computer will most likely be ripped up, don't assume that someone down the line won't try to plug it in—especially if the system still works. Just to be on the safe side, it's a good idea to wipe the hard drive completely, including the operating system to remove your version of Windows and your administrator's account. To do this, you can use a number of utilities, including WipeInfo on Norton System Works, Disk-Deleter Pro 2.2.0 ($39.95, www.bluestsoft.com), or a free online utility, Eraser 5.86. If you're really paranoid, you can remove the hard drive, open it up, and smash the platter with a hammer. (But before you do that, read step 3).


Before you toss out the bytes with the bathwater, take a moment to consider whether there's anything inside that's still in good working order. If there is, you may be able to use it down the road. Since your power supply, graphics card, sound card, and mother-board are most likely outdated, they probably aren't going to be of much use to you, but hard drives, RAM modules, IDE cables, cooling fan, and optical drives are good examples of components that are easy to remove and less likely to become obsolete.


Keep in mind that many recyclers charge a fee to take a desktop tower, monitor, or printer off your hands. The EPA's Web site has a useful page with a list and links to company take-back programs, big-box store recyclers (such as Best Buy and Circuit City), and local programs (www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/recycle/ecycling/donate.htm). You can also check with your town's sanitation department. Some communities offer free take-back programs at certain times of year.


Brag about your good deed to friends, family, and coworkers. Try to get your company to participate in a corporate take-back program. Send around links to recycling locations and possible donation sites. If you had a particularly good or bad experience with a certain company or recycler, e-mail or log on to discussion forums and let everyone know.
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