PCs

Could your old PCs get new lease of life in the developing world?

Why you should put old hardware to good use by donating it to charity, instead of crushing outdated PCs or selling them off cheaply.

UK IT charity Computer Aid International has shipped 200,000 PCs and laptops to schools, hospitals and charities in developing countries since 1998, and is appealing for another 50,000 PCs and laptops this year for use in Africa and Latin America.

The average large company in the UK disposes of an average of 542 computers per year, according to the charity's research. But while the UK gets rid of several million working machines every year, in sub-Saharan Africa there are only 25 PCs per 1,000 people, and the charity argues there is a huge opportunity to use these refurbished PCs to reduce poverty.

Most of the donated PCs are used in education, giving children and adults the IT skills they need for further education and to get better jobs. Access to PCs also allows rural doctors to connect to specialists in city centres, while the computers can also allow farmers keep up to date with weather forecasts and find new markets for their crops.

About 95 per cent of donations to the charity come from businesses, with individuals providing the remainder. Supermarket group Sainsbury's is Computer Aid's largest PC donor to date, having given more than 11,000 items of equipment over the past three years.

Although the charity receives donations from hundreds of organisations each month, most companies worried about data security still prefer to crush machines instead of recycling them. Other companies try to resell their old kit, but Anja ffrench, director of communications at Computer Aid International, said donating this equipment to charity has a far greater value, with a single donated PC sufficient to train 60 children in IT.

ffrench said more could be done with Europe's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations to encourage reuse of old hardware: "If there was a target for reuse in the WEEE directive, it would be an incentive to donate equipment for reuse. Currently there is no such target, unfortunately. The WEEE legislation does state, however, that companies should prioritise reuse over recycling, but there is no actual incentive to do so."

About

Steve Ranger is the UK editor of TechRepublic, and has been writing about the impact of technology on people, business and culture for more than a decade. Before joining TechRepublic he was the editor of silicon.com.

17 comments
james.vandamme
james.vandamme

...matches donors and non-profits. They've tightened up a bit on who is eligible, but you can recycle stuff right in your own town. The receiving .org will pick up and you can specify that the data be wiped. Or you can do them a favor by installing a suitable Linux for them, because they probably can't afford to go out and buy windows at retail.

wellcraft19
wellcraft19

A number of Rotary Clubs here in the Seattle area collects donated PCs. They are rebuilt/upgraded by high-school students, and these students then go on a "mission" somewhere to set up computer (learning) labs. So, sure old computers can have a great value. Both for the actual end user, but also as a tool in helping building both communities and pride. For the past years, these kids have gone to Antigua (before that Turkey, Slovakia, etc). A lot of work, but they also get to see another part of the world, embrace different culture and food, and (this year) some needed sun in early winter. More to read on: http://www.sammamishrotary.org/index.cfm?display=pages&pageid=6477&sub=e

techrepublic
techrepublic

With the economic situation this country is in, it's often shocking to see what gets thrown out. I work in a data center, and in one day I brought home 5 servers which were being discarded to be recycled. They were all complete with RAM and CPU, missing only the hard drives. Four of them are working. Another day, I brought home nine desktops, again complete and working except for hard drives, and they all have 3.4 GHz CPUs! Another day, 52 48-port patch panels, 12 of which I donated to my school. Eight 24-volt battery chargers for generator sets... The list goes on and on... Schools and charities have very limited budgets and can use a lot of this stuff. Can't corporations receive the same tax breaks for donations that they receive for "throwing away"? I'm building a mini data center in my home with perfectly good throw-aways!

srand98
srand98

There is a non-profit charity in Shrewsbury, New Jersey called Family Resources. They serve mentally challenged children and young adults. They accept donated computers which are then refurbished and donated to needy families. We have a group of 7 or 8 volunteers from the Brookdale Computer Users Group who do the refurbishing. Are you located in Monmouth or Ocean County, NJ and would like to donate? Go to http://www.frainc.org/techconnection/ for information about Family Resources. Go to www.bcug.com for information about the Brookdale Computer Users Group.

John_I
John_I

Our Outlookfoundation does the same thing here in the USA for children and military personnel. more information, please visit www.outlookfoundation.org or call 888-782-3610.

jelabarre
jelabarre

Really, I don't *want* all those slightly older machines going overseas. The only way I can afford newer equipment these days is scavenging and rebuilding other people's castoffs.

jlgordon
jlgordon

I have been taking PCs to Nicaragua and Honduras loaded with a typing tutor and MS Office (Spanish). Even simple computer skills give people an advantage in those countries. One person I worked with landed a job at a local cyber-cafe in Managua another is a member of an indigenous people group (Rama) who finished his master's degree with an emphasis on Eco-Tourism and Biology. My Rama friend uses his computer for networking (he is the first of the Rama to have a computer and internet access), research, and running his new farming business. I also taught a three day workshop on systems development using Oracle Application Express at a local university in Bluefields, Nicaragua (URACCAN). Many people are hungry to learn tech skills but don't have access to a computer. With some notebook computers selling for around $300 now I have started to buy new machines here and there to give to my friends. Each person I give a machine to also teaches others in their community. progresstools.org www.ramacay.com

geofer50
geofer50

It makes sense let someone else have the old PC and when they are done with them then they have to dispose of them. Really cleaver in that it don't end up in the landfill in my own back yard! Let someone else worry about the recycling (if that) when they are done with the old PC!

dford
dford

The only parts of the developing world that could use clapped out old PCs doesn't even have the electricity to run them! Sorry - I just don't believe this.

toadforce
toadforce

We've used them for years now to get rid of old equipment. It's simple enough - email them now - info@computeraid.org. They'll come and collect if you have enough kit to give away. As for the hard disks, we use a device to overwrite what's there with random 1's and 0's. Job done.

symowallo
symowallo

Without clear information on *HOW* to help, it's sort of pointless really. It's not like the average company could send their computers to a developing country on their own.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Also, even where regular power line is unavailable, you'd be surprised about how ingenious people are about making generators. Your stance smacks of ignorance.

toadforce
toadforce

While mains electricity is a problem in the developing world, it varies a great deal. Even so, generators and UPS's can give you a more reliable supply. Many corporates throw out PCs according to a 3 or 4 year timetable regardless of whether they still work. Many are still quite usable.

Robiisan
Robiisan

about checking local community resources.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

It's an exact science to get the data completely removed... be careful if you have any sort of sensitive data, and everybody does...

Robiisan
Robiisan

Where I live, there is an organization called "New 2 U Computers" accepting donation of used equipment through, amongst others, a Verizon storefront. They are even willing to take "broken" printers, towers, laptops, you-name-it, because they have volunteer techs who rebuild systems and ship them out in working order. New 2 U works with local organizations to provide refurbished equipment to handicapped and underpriviledged children, rather than overseas and underdeveloped countries. All I do is make sure the hard drives are wiped and randomized securely.

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