Computers: Reduce, reuse, recycle


What are three things nonprofits can do to make recycled computers work?


* Add life to an old machine.

A computer has a hardware life of seven years. So while most offices replace their computers after three to four years of use, most of these machines still have another two to three years in them.

If you can add some life to a piece of equipment, it’s the best thing both for the environment and for your organization.

So when computers begin to clog up and slow down – and they all do, especially when everyone’s on the Internet – get them maintained and cleaned out.

Software upgrades drive computer obsolescence more than anything else, so in order to keep equipment running well, upgrade your software very judiciously, but keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software and definitions up-to-date.

* Buy to match your needs.

New isn’t always better. We’ve found that nonprofits, like most other businesses, don’t use applications that require terribly new equipment anymore.

Assess how you will be using your office equipment and buy accordingly.

Do you use your computers for trainings or have a number of different users on a daily basis? Do you need a laptop for extensive travel?

If so, you might consider a new computer. If not, refurbished computers may be a better option.

Don’t simply buy the cheapest new computer. Often, a refurbished, heavy-duty computer will better withstand the test of time.

Generally you can get a good, refurbished computer for about one-third of the price of a new one, around $100 to $150 for a desktop, and most refurbishers provide some kind of warranty.

It’s often useful to do periodic assessments of your computer needs and plan for future needs. TechSoup offers online tools, and a sample technology plan to help you do that.

* Maintain, maintain, maintain.

In our experience, the most important thing is not whether a computer is new or used, but how it’s maintained.

It’s a big cost factor for people to do computer maintenance, and on a short budget, that’s something that can get overlooked.

In an educational setting, where user traffic is high, maintenance is key.

Using a software package like Microsoft Steadystate, which returns computers to their original configuration every time you restart your machine, is integral for computers with a high volume of users.

The nonprofit community should help spread the word about getting electronics recycling and reuse going in a real way.

It’s an important environmental and social change. If we can create an ecosystem where three year-old computers are cycled out of businesses, go through refurbishment and then into nonprofits, schools and low-income families worldwide, that’s how things should work.

— Compiled by Elizabeth Floyd

Jim Lynch is computer recycling & reuse development director for CompuMentor and the Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher program for the Americas.  CompuMentor is a San Francisco-based nonprofit technical assistance provider and home of

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