Random Musings

4000 Pounds

James, Shawn and I spent the morning transferring approximately 4000 pounds of obsolete and dead computer equipment from a storage area under the high school gym into a large box truck provided by EZ PC Recycling. As you might have thought, the process wasn’t much fun. We had to lift all sorts of heavy PC gear up a flight of steps, unit-by-unit, and then hoist it into the back of a truck. The whole process took several hours and was rather exhausting. While we were marching up and down the steps, loading up the recycle truck and receiving our tech workout, several ideas about technology footprints came to mind.

First, it occurred to me just how much technology form-factors have changed in the past 1o years. Many of the computers we disposed of were G3 All-in-one units (AIO). You may remember them as the very tall, heavy, grey Mac units purchased around 1998 for a number of elementary and middle school classrooms. The G3 AIO units were pretty awesome in their time – fast, powerful and loaded with the new version of Mac OS 8! Thousands of our students and teachers used these machines for multimedia learning, web-browser and a whole host of other instructional technology projects. Fast forward to Summer 2007- No computer manufacturer would ever dream of producing such a heavy unit. The G3 AIO weighs close to 60 pounds. Besides the costs associated with metal inside the computer, imagine in today’s dollars, the cost of shipping such a massive computer to schools, businesses and homes.

The form factor and weight issue sparked a bit of a discussion- maybe it is time to only purchase laptops when we next replace desktop units as part of the equipment refresh cycle. Besides the obvious weight advantage when hauling them away for recycling 🙂 , laptops have the advantages of portability, small physical footprints and greater flexibility. For example, a “lab” could be quickly rolled back to a classroom should the need arise (something that is hard to do with thirty, 60 pound computers/monitors). With the Classrooms for the Future project at the High School, we are already heading down this path for one building. Perhaps we should apply the same strategy to the other district buildings?

There is a green ending to this musing: All of this dead gear will be shipped elsewhere and processed or recycled so that virtually nothing will end up in landfills. I wonder what the recycled metal and plastic will end being used for… perhaps to make new iPods or laptops? 😉

3 replies on “4000 Pounds”

In the 1980’s my brother who worked for the educational section of Unisys (PC company) suggested to a group of Philadelphia superintendents to go with a main frame (server) and individual terminals (similar to laptops) model. This idea was not used because of the initial cost factor to the public schools. Instead the district went the “less expensive” route provided by an ingenious Apple company that just about gave away hardware to the public schools knowing that their peripherals and software would need to be used by their hardware. Had we gone the other route, we would still have some recyling to do but I bet you wouldn’t be as tired. For me and I think I’m not unusual to what others are professing, small is better and perhaps the handhelds is the direction to go. I’m ready to move ahead. I’d like to be one of the schools initiating it.
Thank you for your time and energies!

The portability of laptops would be fantastic in the FCS classroom! I can envision a laptop sitting next to a student learning a new skill in a work area or being used by small groups in various areas of the classroom as they work on online projects, podcasts and more….
onward to the future.

I am currently taking a Computers and Information Systems class and we have been discussing the issue of disposing of old computers this week. Below is an excerpt from a paper I submitted on this topic. I was astounded by the figures on hazardous waste materials generated by computers. Finding a computer recycling copany to dispose of our old district computers is definitely the way to go. I do have one question…what does the district do with the hard drives? Are the drives cleaned off and sent along with the computer for recycling? Do we clean off all school district identifying information? Does this company shred the old drives?

According to Michael J. Meyer in “Disposal of Old Computer Equipment” (July, 2004), an estimated 45 million computers became obsolete in 2005. Meyer went on to say that “…each color monitor contains, on average, four to five pounds of lead, considered hazardous waste when disposed of…” (2004). A staggering 27% of the monitor weight (p.1), comes from its lead content. The level of lead in a color monitor is three times the hazardous waste levels established by the EPA. By the end of 2004, approximately “…1.2 billion pounds of lead, 2 million pounds of cadmium, 1.2 million pounds of hexavalent chromium, and 400,000 pounds of mercury” (2004) will result from the disposal from obsolete computers.

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