Millions of obsolete PCs enter waste stream

Millions of obsolete PCs enter waste stream

People make a beeline for websites that offer free computers, but Paul Kirk couldn't give away 800 Pentium PCs late last year.

Computer disposal firms declined to take the machines, saying they were already loaded with castoffs that weren't year 2000 compliant. Charities and schools said 133MHz was too slow for them.

Finally, Kirk, information technology manager at United Companies Financial, was able to sell about 400 PCs to employees for $US5 each. The rest went to recyclers that dismantled them and sold the scrap copper, gold and glass.

This is an overlooked byproduct of Moore's Law: more garbage. Companies that upgrade hardware every three years face an increasingly critical problem: what to do with tired, old computers.

Only 39 per cent of 102 IT managers surveyed by IDG said they have a consistent, company-wide policy for dealing with retired hardware.

"People continue to ignore the situation. It's bad all around," said Frances O'Brien, an analyst at GartnerGroup.

Think about the volume: more than 20 million PCs became obsolete in 1998 -- but just 14 per cent of those were recycled or donated, according to the latest figures from the National Safety Council, an environmental watchdog group in Washington.

Gartner says 114 million PCs were sold last year, and another 133 million will be sold this year. And they'll all need a final resting place in a few years.

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