Recycle or Rethink

Stephen Yagielowicz
As 2006 begins and new electronics come parading out from under the tree, the time is now to think about what to do with your old computers, printers and monitors. According to the U.S. EPA, nearly 250 million computers will become obsolete in the next five years, and only 11 percent of personal computers retired in the U.S. are recycled. Many of these systems end up in foreign countries to have their circuit boards stripped of precious metals in a process that creates harmful gasses and waste that will be around for decades. Here are seven tips for recycling or reusing old computers.

1. Any equipment that is not working or is obsolete should be tagged for recycling. (Don't know if it's obsolete? Look at the box. If it's a PC, does it say "Pentium"? If it's a Mac, does it say "G4" or "G5"? No? Then it's obsolete.) Recyclers are businesses or organizations that remove useful parts and then break down the rest of the materials, as we do with bottles and cans. They also safely remove hazardous materials. Note: Some of these organizations may charge a fee to accept old PCs and equipment for recycling, especially computer monitors. For more info visit www.electronicsrecycling.org.

2. Did you know some major electronics chains offer recycling opportunities and, for working items, sometimes give store credit that can be used to purchase DVDs and other goodies? Check the links below for more info: communications.bestbuy.com and www.radioshackcorporation.com.

3. Upgrade you computer. For less than the price of a new computer — about $500 when this issue went to press — we found that you could get a 100-gigabyte harddrive and a motherboard kit that would turn an old computer into a turbocharged rocket. A little extra random access memory or RAM can also caffeinate a sluggish system at a reasonable price.

4. Don't be so quick to throw away that old monitor! Most modern computers make it easy to plug in and use a two-monitor display, which makes any desk look like a high-tech command center. That's fun and addictive even if you're not a graphic artist!

5. Turn an old computer into a custom entertainment system for your den, garage or office lounge. We went to www.pcclub.com and found that for a few hundred bucks you could take an older system (Pentium II or above) and turn it into a custom DVD / Surround sound / Gaming / Television system. Just follow this simple recipe. 1. Live Theater 5.1 Surround Sound Card = $20 2. MSI TV anywhere Plus TV Tuner = $40 3. Used 36" Monitor on E-bay = $100.00 4. CREATIVE INSPIRE P5800 5.1 SPEAKERS = $70 5. Classic Arcade CD Software = $30 Total $230

6. Turn an old PC into a classic iPod doc. In a recent Popular Mechanics issue, a man took an old 1940s radio cabinet and installed a small computer, monitor and some nice speakers and had a classic looking sound system to play all of his favorite tunes from his iPod.

7. If all else fails, decommission your old hard drive tower and use it as an ultra-modern bedside table.

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