Recycling computer parts: The debate rages on

Is it worth trying to salvage parts from your old computers? Or is it a waste of time? Are people who don't recycle parts missing an opportunity to save? Read this article to catch up on the debate and then jump in with your own opinion.

Is there any real value in recycling old computer parts? Is the reality that the amount of time and effort spent recycling offsets the costs of buying a new part? What do you do if buying new parts isn’t an option? Are old parts just failures waiting to happen?

If you know the answers to these questions, then you should be part of the recycling debate. The discussion began after Manny Lopez, IT manager at The Galveston County Daily News in Galveston, TX, offered a money-saving tip. In "Save a bundle by recycling computer parts," Lopez described how he saves money for the newspaper by salvaging parts from old computers.

"I've got a stash of old NIC cards, Pentium processors, hard drives, floppy disk drives, video cards, memory, power supplies, keyboards, and mice that I keep for backups," Lopez said.

The idea seems pretty simple. Why buy a new mouse when you can replace it with a cleaned-up, used mouse instead?

But in the discussion that followed, a number of readers pointed out that the time and effort it takes to rescue the old mouse may end up costing as much as a new one.

Members are deeply divided on the issue of recycling parts. Here is what some members had to say. Read their comments and then join in on the recycling discussion.

False premise leads to false savings
A major argument against salvaging parts as a money-saving gambit is that someone has to pull the old parts, test them, and install them.

David Wilson made the case against recycling in a series of rhetorical questions:

“How much do your technicians make? If you install a used part, how many extra callbacks do you get because it fails early? How long does it take you to restore the user's computer, and how much does the user's downtime cost your company? Do you replace the hard drive twice to save money?”

Coyote_CA said he agreed 100 percent with Wilson.

“The cost of labor and storage alone should make you pause and think. Also, how much longer will these 'previously used' parts last? How good can some of these used fans, monitors, and disk drives be?”

The occasional mouse or keyboard might be fine to reuse, Coyote_CA said, but duct tape isn’t going to solve problems that could easily be fixed with new parts and machines. “There are other issues to be concerned about on a daily basis.”

That has to be the case with Mario Colon, who is managing nine sites with more than 500 users.

“We deploy 150+ new PCs a year and support WAN/LAN, phones, and PCs for all the sites, and you want me to take apart a PC? Granted, everyone should have backup mice and monitors, but going in and removing fans, CPUs, and hard drives is too time consuming.”

The argument that it doesn’t cost a company anything to reuse old parts doesn’t float with Carock, who said that could only be true if your tech’s time is worthless. “It still takes a measurable amount of time to remove parts from machines, test them to make sure they are working, organize, etc.”

“David Wilson has it right—the cost of labor far outweighs the savings,” Lmcburney writes. “Donate the old computers to educational or charitable organizations and spend your time with your clients, not with their computers.”

Reusing old parts is going to cost the client through total cost of ownership of the computer or quality of service reductions from less reliable parts, according to Colin Forrester.

“Cost reduction is an important issue, but [the time it takes for a recycled part to fail] may be dramatically lower than for a new part, and what about departmental efficiency levels?” Forrester asks. “A danger is that the company will try to save money by dispensing with the services of someone who apparently has too much time on their hands—organizations don't like to fund hobbies.”

The other side of the coin
Despite the discussion over where the real savings are in recycling, many members seem to be doing well by salvaging what they can.

“Not every company NEEDS to have new, state-of-the-art equipment for all uses,” according to Cara, who said she works for a small company. “For example, we have a shop environment that doesn't need much more than a 486 to transfer data to even older CNC machinery. If it transfers too fast, it won't communicate properly. This is a great place for me to install the older PCs that the office and engineering staff have outgrown so that they can have the ‘latest and greatest’ out of the budget pool.”

Sometimes getting the right machine for the job at hand is a better option than paying for the “latest and greatest,” according to Steve Haines. By using what he has on hand to reduce expenses and by not falling for the flashy new stuff, Haines has proven to his boss that he can be trusted to spend company funds wisely.

Haines also points out that when he’s on the clock, he gets paid the same if he’s installing a server as he does pulling usable parts from old computers. If he’s not needed to do something else right then, the extra cost to the company is effectively nothing, he said.

That’s a point that was reiterated by Generalist, who writes, “Assume that you are a small company that has a tech person that handles hardware, software, training, and other IT activities. During slack times, you are paying for their services anyway so use them for repairing PCs with recycled parts. (It is better than having them sit around reading tech magazines all the time. But remember to give them time for that too.)”

Those who are advocating buying new parts vs. reusing old parts because of the costs are missing a part of the equation, according to Eusebio. “You have to account for all the costs associated with purchasing,” Eusebio said. “Submitting and processing purchase requests, approvals, inventory depreciation (which is much faster for new parts)—all these costs are not free either.”

Sometimes the savings are related to availability and the costs of getting a part from point A to point B.

“I used to work for a State Government Department in Australia, and it was standard policy to scavenge old parts from old workstations. We'd save the floppy drives, power supplies, RAM, mice, and keyboards. With the differences between exchange rates against the Australian dollar and shipping expenses, computers and hardware was not cheap,” writes Bunyip.


So what do you have to say about it?
Who do you think is right? Is there more cost to recycling old computer parts than buying new ones? Is buying new parts a waste of money if you are throwing out reusable parts? Send us a note or share your views in the discussion below.


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