Where Do PCs Go When They Retire?

Recent legislation in California aimed at promoting environmentally friendly disposal of IT equipment highlighted the issue there, but environmental awareness nationwide has white-box builders using a variety of PC disposal channels to help customers free up office space without cluttering up the planet.

Some companies are refurbishing old systems and donating them to nonprofit organizations.

Instead of putting old PCs in the trash, Jim Kiesow, owner and manager of Dex Computer Center in Poway, Calif., tries to refurbish them"by replacing a broken floppy disk drive or a noisy hard drive, for instance"and then donates them to nonprofit organizations. But he stays away from improving the cosmetics. "They get the beat-up chassis and the beat-up monitors," he said. A lot of small businesses are also looking for used PCs, Kiesow said.

Harvey Morrow, vice president of A PC Site, Coral Spring, Fla., said he tries to help customers resell their old systems whenever possible. When he gets an older system that is sellable, Morrow heads to eBay. He said he will also start taking products to the local Office Depot, which this month launched a program with Hewlett-Packard to take in unwanted PCs or related products free of charge for recycling. Morrow said he cannibalizes some older systems for parts, but not as much as he use to. "Things change too fast," he said.

Bass Computer, a Houston-based white-box builder, expects to finalize a trade-in program next month to help customers dispose of older PCs, said Jim Campbell, vice president and CFO. "Quite a bit of the old PCs can be recycled," he said. "A lot of countries buy the older technology by the container-load. We will refurbish them, then resell them to the U.S. or overseas, depending on the system."

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Santa Ana, Calif.-based system builder NetServ used to donate a lot of its customers' PCs to charities, but is seeing that disposal channel shrinking, said Malcolm Mendonsa, co-owner. "It seems customers want to keep [the older PCs], maybe auction them to employees for use at home," he said.

If customers want to sell their PCs, Mendonsa cautions them to remove any important data first. "I tell them to take out the hard drives and archive them, and destroy the rest of the system," he said. "They say OK, but I go back two years later and the systems are still there."