The Joy of e-waste

June 18, 2007

Recently I've been really worked up about all these computers in the closet. It's a bunch of junk.

Monitors in the office. Akk.

A bunch of dot-com-bubble bullshit that never needed to be purchased in the first place. I've been stressed out about that festering backwater of old computers since I got my job here 16 months ago.

For 16 months, I worried that it would all be super expensive to recycle.

For 16 months, I worried that it wouldn't be recyclable at all.

More crapola.

I worried because it was all crappy Pentium II processors and Pre-OSX Apples and janky Sun workstations. Stuff our design and programming team would never touch (nose upturned). Not to mention the 105-pound rack-mounted servers. All of it full of toxic heavy metals. Not to mention the steaming pile of three button Sun mice and a giant nest of serial cables. And the 39 (!) keyboards.

Seriously, this stuff has been sitting around for years. It obviously must be some sort of corporate psychic baggage. Worse, I'll bet most everyone reading this blog also has some secret e-waste laying around. We're a web design shop, but every office I've ever worked in has at least one generation of 'puters laying around.

Taking a clue from Ecoiron, a great blog of green hardware issues, recently bought the book Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America by historian Giles Slade. It has been pretty great so far, mostly string of amusing primary sources.

"Americans threw out 315 million computers in 2004, and 100 million cell phones in 2005. Most were still usable, and all contain permanent biological toxins (PBTs). Electronic trash, or e-waste, is rapidly becoming a catastrophic problem. To understand how we ended up in this alarming predicament, Slade recounts the fascinating history of American consumer culture and the engineering of our "throw-away ethic." - Booklist on Made To Break

Perhaps a real review will be in order if I ever actually read the entire thing, which is rare these days. For now perhaps I will just note that this book was one of the primary reasons for not getting an iPhone. One less Blackberry that has to die in a desk drawer.

Anyway, about all those computers in the office. I was really just nervous about taking it all to the dump and feeling like a complete earth rapist or something.

But in the end, what did it take to get rid of them?

Well, it turns out, not a three-day excursion to the landfill. And we didn't have to participate in some ill-conceived plot to ship it all to the developing world.

We just took pictures and listed it on Craigslist.

And 90% of it was gone in 24 hours. To people who were delighted to have it.

The moral of the story: give it away now. Even if you think it is too old to use, give it away. And then think twice about that new gadget. There is joy to be had in your ewaste. Reuse is cathartic.