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Did a new PC, handheld or printer pop into your home as a holiday present? Before you settle into enjoying your new technology, take a minute to think about what will happen to the old.

If you are like most in the CIO Canada family, you already have a heap of outdated, unused PC equipment in your attic, garage or office storeroom. So what do you do with it?

Finding a use for old equipment is not only a matter of whether you have room for discards. According to a study by the U.S. National Safety Council’s Environmental Health Center, some 100 million PCs, monitors and TVs are expected to become obsolete annually by 2005 in the United States alone.

H. Scott Matthews, research director for the Green Design Initiative at Carnegie Mellon University, says his organization’s research projects that 50 million old computers are expected to be landfilled by 2005 – a smaller number, but not a lesser problem.

When PCs, laptops, monitors, printers, cell phones and televisions go to landfills, it’s a messy environmental proposition. In fact, some regions ban the discard of TVs and PC monitors due to the high levels of lead in the devices, which are released into the ecosystem when the cathode ray tubes are crushed or burned rather than recycled. Other hazardous materials in technology equipment include cadmium and mercury, among others.

A new effort from IBM provides an easy way to recycle high-tech trash. In November, IBM announced a technology-recycling program specifically aimed at individual consumers and small business owners. For US$29.99, which includes shipping, IBM will take PC parts and machines from any maker and either recycle it safely or get usable equipment into the hands of a non-profit organization that can use it. Information on the PC Recycling Service is available at the IBM Web site at

Usable equipment will be refurbished and donated to Gifts in Kind International (, which contributes to a network of more than 50,000 nonprofit organizations in neighbourhoods throughout the world. Non-usable PCs will be disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner.

Another great way to get a good home for old equipment is through the Computers for Schools program (, which operates more than 40 refurbishment sites across Canada. Donated equipment is inventoried, tested, repaired and, when possible, the capacity is upgraded. If a piece of donated equipment is not repairable it may be used for replacement parts.

Willie Cade, president of the affiliated Computers for Schools Association based in Chicago, says his organization refurbishes usable equipment and gets it directly into public schools in the United States and Canada. He explains the U.S. E-Rate program, the Clinton administration program that wired low-income and rural public schools with Internet connections, does not pay for PCs to connect into the wiring, and most U.S. public school systems don’t have funding to buy new equipment.

“We’ve gotten 100,000 recycled PCs into U.S. schools and 250,000 in Canada, where they do have government funding,” Cade says. “I’m so jealous of Canada, I can’t stand it.”