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And how. Judging by my mailbag, the clamor for outmoded computers is comparable to the demand for Miss Saigon tickets circa 1991. An insensitive lout at heart, I figured most suggestions would tend toward the whimsical, like the yukster who proposed building a colossus-sized statue of Dubya out of pureed Gateways. But 90 percent of respondents suggested the donation route, and many inquired as to how they could ensure their relics end up in appreciative hands. So Mr. Roboto went digging for the quickest ways of turning your digital dinosaur into a juicy tax write-off.
A little background: In a column last month, I noted that nearly 80 percent of America's techno-trash goes to Asia, where it's scrapped for precious metals. But there are also oodles of environmental demons in there, which led China to ban the importation of most electronic waste. The dearth of alternatives led to the Trashy Wisdom challenge, a pathetically nerdy take on Savage Love's My Man Sure Looks Hot in His Tighty-Whities contest (tightywhitiesarehot.com). Could readers come up with a safer disposal method than loading everything onto Asia-bound freighters?
Nothing could be cleaner than keeping the computers in use. The trouble is finding a recycler who deals with individuals; most of the big operations, such as Per Scholas and Non-Profit Computing Inc., work mainly with corporations that fork over hundreds of machines at a time. If you have only a lone desktop to share, start by combing the Web site of Share the Technology (sharetechnology.org), a recycler based in Rancocas, N.J. The group's bulletin board, started in 1996, lists hundreds of schools and nonprofits in need of hardware, like the Kings County Tenants' Coalition. Post your system specs in the Donate Computers section, and you should be rid of that oldie in no time. Like most recyclers, however, Share the Technology asks that all gifts be Pentium-class machines, so forget about dumping your 1986 Kaypro.
Another great board is hosted by AnotheR BytE (recycles.org), an Arizona-based group that's been recycling for eight years. The requesters range from New York's Legal Aid Society to the King of Glory Ministry in Kenner, Louisiana. There are also dozens of moving personal requests from seniors, students, and the disabled. Mr. Roboto's mechanical heart leaked a little oil, for example, upon reading a note from Angela Royal, a Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, mother of three and recent widow who hopes "that a computer at home would make it possible for me to get off of welfare." Can't someone spare this woman a Dell 386, despite the IRS rule that gifts to individuals aren't tax deductible? Like most folks on the board, she'll pay for shipping.
If you'd like your castoffs to go abroad, check out One River Computer Recycling (oneriver.org). Founded by Seaville, New Jersey, teacher Mike Dare-Gentile in 1996, One River has since shipped almost 20,000 pounds' worth of hardware to schools in Jamaica. Dare-Gentile is especially keen for old dot-matrix printers. "We prefer not to go with laser printers, or even inkjets, because of the cost of the cartridge," he says, noting that a replacement cartridge costs more, on average, than a Jamaican teacher earns per month. "Give me a dot-matrix printerit's cheap, it can handle the heat, and it can handle being beaten to death. I love dot matrix."
The prerequisite for any donation, of course, is that the hardware work. If your computer has truly given up the ghost, call the Department of Sanitation for safe disposal tips. Either that, or wait for the day when the world's ready for the clever idea proposed by Trashy Wisdom entrant Dave Silverberg of Toronto: "The equipment could be ground, refined, and used as paving material for the roads." Asphalt industry, beware of this man's genius.
Input questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.