Ann Arbor Business to Business
Small Business and the Internet

A Trip to the Boneyard

November 2002

By Mike Gould

It seems like everyone I know has one, sitting neglected in a corner. I'm talking about old computers, and their pals, moldering monitors, miscellaneous mice, and problem printers. They still work, mostly, but their replacements are now in place and working away. So there they sit, taking up space and feeling forsaken. (Well, maybe not the forsaken part. Remember: never anthropomorphize computers. They hate that.)

What do you do with a retired computer?
Where I work at the UM, the answer is easy: a trip to the boneyard. This is the local storage room where Macs and PCs go to molder before their final trip to the UM Property Disposition. For you, there is probably a closet somewhere filled to the clothes bar with assorted beige boxes, cables, and the like. You follow the conventional wisdom and upgrade your hardware regularly, so what to do with the old hardware?

Your Options are: re-purpose, sell, give away, or trash. Which you decide upon depends on your needs, your GQ (Geek Quotient - how willing you are to dive into the box and upgrade the hard drive and RAM, for instance), and various other aspects of the situation. Hopefully, one of the suggestions below will resonate with you.

Re-Purpose
You will want to hold onto at least one mouse and keyboard to have as a spare. Ditto one monitor that you can swap out when the main one decides to act up. With a printer, it depends on how old and what shape it is in. Given that current printers are incredibly cheap, there is not much use for an old printer, especially considering the number of moving parts and varying interfaces involved..

Computers (the boxes with the drives, connectors, and Post-It notes all over them) are a slightly different story. Say the computer in question isn't the latest, but it still works and it has an Ethernet card. If your GQ is high enough, you can turn the box into a print or file server. This may require a RAM or hard drive upgrade, but these are relatively inexpensive. Or you can give the box to that new temp employee who just needs to do word processing or some other task that doesn't require a lot of horsepower. This is the trickle-down theory, and aside from the complaints you will get from the one trickled-down-upon, it works in most organizations.

There is a book available called "The Hand Me Down PC" which explains how to keep older stuff in use; valuable if your GQ is high enough.

Sell
Good luck. Classified ads, Ebay, and other online entities are out there for your use, but consider the following. Nothing depreciates faster than computers; expect to get a small fraction of the purchase price back. You have all the hassle of dealing with the transaction; listing, selling, schlepping to the door, etc. Hardly worth the hassle IMHO (In My Humble Opinion - a bit of geekspeak). If you have several identical, fairly new items, you may have better luck. Web sites like the American Computer Exchange (www.amcoex.com) exist to broker such transactions.

Give It Away
It used to be that you could call up your local school or church, and they would be happy to take your castoffs. But of late they have wised up to the greatly increased maintenance cost of older gear, and generally refuse most offerings. It doesn't hurt to ask, but if the items are more that a few years old, most agencies will refuse them.

Here in ecologically-aware Ann Arbor, we are blessed with the Recycling Center. A trip to their website at:

http://www.recycleannarbor.org

reveals a wealth of info. Their ReUse center on South Industrial Highway accepts donated computer gear, with the following caveats:

The ReUse center will give you a receipt for your donation, which you can use for tax purposes. The problem is that it is up to you determine the worth of the item; online listings and Ebay can help here. If you have questions about any of this, they can be reached at 734 662 6288. I spoke to Adam Szuch there, and he was very helpful.

Trash it
This is the toughie. The problem is that computers and especially monitors contain vast amounts of toxic substances, especially lead. They are also made of non-degradeable plastics and metals, precisely the sorts of things we want to keep out of landfills. Recycle Ann Arbor to the rescue - they have an arrangement with a recycling facility in Ohio that will crush and recycle the pieces of old computer gear, giving them proper rest or reuse at last. There is a fee for this, listed on their website which covers packing and transportation costs.

So if it is closet-emptying time, pack up the van and head to 2420 S. Industrial Highway in Ann Arbor; our friendly local boneyard.

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