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Don't Junk Your Old PCs!

Don't Junk Your Old PCs!
PC Wasteland - A computer terminal's final resting place is likely to come with a price

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of unpacking a new personal computer. A new machine comes with bells and whistles that your old machine could only dream of running.

But now you've got to do something with that old PC -- otherwise it could end up in a corner of the garage, collecting dust alongside the 13-inch black-and-white TV and 8-track Hi-Fi stereo.

Unlike the 8-track player -- which is really no good unless you're hanging on to those old Carpenters tapes -- your PC probably has some life left in it, maybe as a word processor, a file server or possibly as a basic Internet surfing machine.

But those uses will only last so long. At some point, it will need a final resting place.

That's where electronics recyclers come into the picture.

They have the know-how and the equipment to handle the hazardous materials, separate plastics from metals and reuse parts that still have a few gasps of life in them.

But don't expect PC recycling programs to mirror the recycling programs for aluminum, plastics and newspapers. No one is pulling up to the curb to haul off your old system, nor are recyclers paying top dollar for your machine before grinding it into salvageable metals.

In fact, don't be surprised when they ask you to dig into your pocket to offset the cost of recycling these old beige boxes.

The Computer Recycling Centers in Santa Clara and San Francisco (www.crc.org) will accept any computer system of any age, working or not. Some systems are taken free. Others will cost you a donation of $2, $5 or $20 depending on the age and condition of the machine.

PC manufacturers Hewlett Packard and IBM both recently launched consumer recycling programs but are charging up to $30 for each system turned in. Details on the programs are available on the company's Web sites -- www.hp.com/hpinfo/community/environment/recycle.htm and www.ibm.com/ibm/environment/products/pcrservice.phtml

HP spokeswoman Renee St. Denis realizes that a fee-based program won't be popular with consumers. But, consumers also need to realize that the costs of recycling electronics -- beyond the handling of hazardous materials -- can be sizable.

"People want us to say we'll take them back for free, but it's not free," she said. "There are a lot of dead PC makers out there. Who should pay for the old Commodores?"

There are plenty of options, she said. Cities could institute curb-side recycling but that doesn't come for free either.

"Burdening general tax revenues is not the way to go," St. Denis said.

Part of the problem stems from the consumer mindset that old machines must carry some value.

"If you suspect there's any value left, it's to your advantage to take out a classified ad," said Stan Ramirez of Hackett Enterprises, a San Jose recycling center. "You'll get a lot more money than you will from us."

At most, the center might pay $10 or so for a not-too-old PC but that's discretionary. In most cases, his center is simply a drop-off point.

"Make us your last resort," Ramirez said.

There are other drop-off points in the Bay Area. And few, if any, will pay for your machine. Fry's Electronics stores in the Bay Area, for example, accept computers -- no matter how old -- for recycling. And Best Buy Electronics will be rolling out an electronics recycling program at its stores nationwide later this year.

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, a San Jose advocacy group, has identified recyclers throughout the Bay Area that will accept old computers. The list is on the agency's Web site at www.svtc.org/cleancc/recycle/recycletable.html

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