While Microsoft has backpedaled a bit on the discontinuation of the Windows XP operating system, the fact remains that today’s PCs will still be tomorrow’s trash. That could be good news to the major computer manufacturers, but it also could cause many headaches for consumers trying to figure out what to do with their old computers.
Every passing day technology moves forward, and it makes last year’s computer, printer and other computer-related hardware completely outdated. This problem is not just limited to Windows Vista machines. With Earth Day on our minds, it is time to consider what will happen to that aging hardware.
While many old computers, along with all those printers, scanners, and other devices do make their way to schools, younger children or even parents who hadn’t yet embraced even last year’s technology, the question remains what happens to the rest of all those old computers and hardware? This is a very tricky issue because computers, despite their much smaller size, are actually much more toxic to the environment than an old car, which tends to be mostly scrap metal.
Computers are filled with lead-based solder that can be harmful to ground water, as well as numerous plastic and silicon parts that aren’t biodegradable in the least. With falling prices on PCs, scanners, and printers it is typically easier to get a new one than fix the problem. And new features only make the problem worse, and threaten to overwhelm landfills. Fortunately, some of the largest computer manufacturers are actually addressing the problem.
HP and Sony have introduced programs to take back older hardware. HP has been recycling used computers since 1987, while Sony has started a take back program where consumers can turn in old devices — even if Sony didn’t originally manufacture the product.
There are operations to donate the computers to those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford a computer, plus recovery of key components for recycling, and proper disposal of those elements that shouldn’t just end up in a landfill. Some manufacturers have started programs that mine old computers for chips and other parts that can be reused or melted down to make new parts or other recycled.
Of course, users have to be able to get their old stuff to the right places to make sure it is properly handled.
To address the needs of owners of obsolete machines, Dell Computers has even launched a program on their Web site that will let users print a pre-paid shipping label, complete with home pickup and have the item sent to a Dell recycling partner. From the Dell Web site consumers can supply product information, print out a label, and have the computer picked up for recycling. This is to help ensure that consumers don’t merely toss their computers on the curb in the future.
And if your current PC isn’t a Dell, the computer company will still take it when you buy a new Dell PC. This is good business sense, and good for the environment. Plus it makes it even easier than bringing it out to the curb.