Services aid in recycling PCs

May 28, 2001|By Heidi A. Schuessler | Heidi A. Schuessler,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

One of the biggest obstacles to disposing of old computers is finding a way to get them out of closets and attics and to a recycler. Hewlett-Packard has announced a program to help individuals and small businesses do just that.

The company will now take computer equipment from any manufacturer, including PCs and monitors, printers, scanners, switchers, routers - even calculators and hand-held organizers. Working equipment will be donated to charitable organizations, and parts may be reused. The rest will be processed to recover any usable material.

Hewlett-Packard charges a fee of $13 to $34 (depending on the items), which offsets the cost of shipping and the actual recycling.

"There is some value in these old computers, in terms of their precious and base metals," said Chris Altobell, the business development manager for the Product Recycling Solutions Group at Hewlett-Packard headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif., "but the cost of retrieving that value is actually more than the metals are worth."

The need for recycling channels has grown as fast as the rate of computer obsolescence. Some estimate the average life span of a computer as being less than three years.

According to a National Safety Council report, 20 million computers became obsolete in 1998, but only 11 percent were recycled - and corporations were responsible for the bulk of that.

In the past year, computer manufacturers have started offering recycling programs. IBM accepts any manufacturer's computers and peripherals for $29.95, and Sony has a free take-back program for Sony products in Minnesota. Gateway offers rebates toward future purchases to customers who return their old computers to designated collection sites.

Hewlett-Packard has recycled computers from corporate clients for more than a decade. Its Roseville, Calif., plant processes about four million pounds of equipment a month, and the company plans to open a similar plant in Nashville in July.

Even though Hewlett-Packard has long had such a system in place, Altobell said, consumers began asking about recycling only recently.

People interested in recycling equipment with Hewlett-Packard can go to If there are fewer than 10 items to be recycled, the site will take the owner's credit card information and arrange for Federal Express to pick them up (the parts need to be boxed). If there are more than 10 items, Hewlett-Packard will quote a price for the recycling fee.

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