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I once watched someone walk out of the back of a local downtown business and throw a computer in a dumpster; monitor, keyboard, mouse and all. As highly dignified and refined as I am, I have been known to occasionally insert my entire body into large trash receptacles and rescue such discarded items. It may not have been a pretty picture, but the tossed computer somehow found its way into the back seat of my car.

One of my hobbies is collecting and restoring old computer junk, although I’m becoming pickier as my collection grows. Over the years, my garage has been transformed into a miniature computer salvage yard, full of useful parts that come in handy from time to time. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, as they say. I expected my haul from the dumpster to provide, at best, a few useful parts.

Lo and behold, I plugged in the discarded computer system, pushed the power button and it fired right up. There I was, looking at an old installation of Windows, Version 3.1. Cool! However, as I began to dig further into the system and explore its programs and files, I found some things that were decidedly not cool, such as a fully functional version of the Quicken bookkeeping program.

“No way,” I thought, as I loaded up a random Quicken file. “Uh-oh: way,” I muttered as I found myself staring at a complete set of financial statements from the afore-mentioned downtown business; tax return information, Social Security numbers, bank statements, customer purchases complete with credit card numbers, the works. My question for the business owners, whom I happened to be friends with, was, “Would you like me to erase the hard drive that you threw into the dumpster?”

Unlike old automobiles, which you might still be able to drive around town, perfectly functional computers can actually become worthless to their owners. Sure, the system may still turn on and work just as well as the day that it was bought, but it’s now too slow to run modern programs and is incapable of being secured for Internet usage, which makes it a piece of junk.

Throwing such junk into a dumpster, though, is not a good idea. You may have already been told that electronics waste can be bad for the environment. In addition to that, you may be throwing away something that someone else could use.

A number of options exist for folks needing to dispose of an old computer. Remember to clean up the hard drive first, though (read my article, “Delete Your Files For Good”). You don’t want your private information falling into the wrong hands. Once you’ve sanitized the hard drive, consider the following:

1. Give it to someone like me. If it’s new enough, it might still have some useable parts; I’ll add them to the salvage yard. If it’s obscure enough, I’ll make it part of my personal antique computer museum; I’d love to get my hands on an old Osborne, Apple Lisa or Commodore PET machine. I don’t need any more Windows 95/98/2000/XP computers, though.

2. Sell it on eBay or Craigslist. I’ve unloaded some clunkers this way, but eBay can be a bit of a hassle, as you have to come up with proper shipping boxes and packing materials in order to guarantee that the computer arrives safely on the buyer’s doorstep. Then, you have to go to the Post Office or make arrangements for someone like UPS to pick up your package. Shipping complete systems is expensive. Selling locally on Craigslist is pretty easy, though.

3. Donate your old computer to a worthy charity. Goodwill and Salvation Army are good options. Most school systems, however, are already buried under mountains of old computer junk; they need new stuff. My favorite charity for this purpose is the American military veterans group called AMVETS. Not only do they represent a good cause, but they will also pick up your old computer for free. Contact AMVETS locally at 681-9913, or visit amvets.org for more information.

4. Wait for the annual City of Norman Hazardous Waste Recycling Event at Lloyd Noble Center, and unload your old computer junk there. They’ll see that it’s properly disposed of.