Recycle Old Macs

Some people are very good at finding uses for an old computer—whether as a file server, a recipe archive, or even an aquarium. But if you have no need for your retired Quadra 800 and just want it out of your house, you’ll need to know the best way to get rid of it.

Before you toss your CPU into the trash or leave it curbside, consider its environmental impact. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 220 tons of computers and other electronic goods are dumped in U.S. landfills and incinerators every year. Some of this waste is toxic, and much of it is recyclable. Consider the following options when you’ve outgrown a Mac.

Sell, sell, sell

The adventurous among us may enjoy participating in a local technology flea market, but if you’d like to recoup some of what you spent on your Mac, you can try selling it from the comfort of your home.

One of the more common ways to do this is via eBay, which has a healthy Mac section. The amount you can make varies, of course, with the type of system you’re putting on the block: the PowerBook 140 I’m trying to unload would fetch perhaps $15, while my old Performa 6115 CD would likely top out at around $45—and that’s assuming I threw in the monitor. Newer computers will go for more, but remember that eBay takes its cut of your profits.

And before you decide to post on eBay and make that quick sawbuck, ponder how you’ll ship the computer. If you’ve lost your Mac’s original pack-ing materials, you’ll have to hunt down suitable replacements—including a sturdy container and some sort of padding to keep the CPU from rattling around in the box. You’ll also need to make sure the package arrives safely, as the last thing you want is to be on the hook for a Mac that arrives damaged—or not at all. Consider getting insurance, so if something happens to the Mac in transit, you’re not responsible for damaged goods. You might want to include the price of insurance (at the United States Postal Service, it starts at $1.30 for a package worth $50 or less and goes up from there) when you’re estimating the shipping cost for your buyer.

Another way to sell is to place a classified ad, and there are two ways you can approach this—by staying local and by trying your luck on a Web site.

Convenience is the advantage to selling locally—you won’t have to factor shipping and handling into the deal, and you can make arrangements for your computer’s new owner to pick up the machine. You can usually place an ad in the local newspaper or on a classifieds Web site such as craigslist, which covers 14 major U.S. cities and their environs.

If nobody’s biting locally and you have your heart set on trying to wring some extra cash out of your old Mac, consider casting a wider net. Look on any number of Mac sites—such as Secondhand Mac, Low End Mac, Insanely Great Mac, or Macworld’s own PriceGrabber —for a classifieds section. As long as you specify that the price includes shipping and handling—and you wait until the buyer’s check clears before sending out your computer— posting on a national site can be a fairly easy way to unload old hardware.

Give It away

If the benevolent side of your nature is in charge of getting your old computer out of the house, you may consider donating it to charity. Before you bundle the system into the back of your car and head for the nearest deserving nonprofit, though, make sure your equipment is in fairly good condition. Most local organizations are not interested in anything with less than a PowerPC processor, so very old Macs are out.

If you’re looking to unload a shelf full of separate hardware items, consider giving your equipment to a refurbisher. These nonprofit groups specialize in restoring computer equipment and passing it on—they’re also better equipped to accept incomplete systems or individual pieces of hardware, and to help you recycle electronic equipment that can’t be refurbished. (For a list of things to consider when donating or selling your computer, see “All Things Must Pass.”)

There are a number of Web resources available to potential donors. Share The Technology offers a computer-donation database where you can search, by platform or by region, for a local organization that can take your computer off your hands. Another good searchable directory is TechSoup, a Web site that provides technology resources to nonprofit organizations. You can look for a local or national recipient that will take your computer; then you can read a profile of each organization, as well as donor comments that rate how easy it was to work with the group. For those who prefer to research the groups they donate to, this is a helpful feature.

A final note about donation—yes, you can write it off on your taxes, but only with proper documentation. Make sure the group to which you’re donating the computer is indeed a nonprofit organization with a tax-exempt ID. Be sure to make a list of everything you donated, and get a receipt from the group for the current market value of your donation. You paid $2,400 for that Performa in 1995, but it’s not worth that much today. If you’re not sure what the market value of your computer is, check out, which provides extensive pricing information, based on processor model, case type, and manufacturer.


If all else fails and you can’t find someone to take your computer or monitor off your hands, you should recycle it. Simply throwing the items out is a bad idea—the National Safety Council estimates that between three and five million tons of electronic waste will be coming from homes and businesses over the next several years, and much of it contains both recyclable materials (such as copper and aluminum) and toxic substances (such as lead and mercury). Letting either sit in a dump isn’t good for the environment in the long run.

There are a few things to remember as you’re finding a recycler—many accept old equipment at a drop-off center or make pickups on a schedule, and they’ll probably charge a small fee to get rid of the electronics in question. Recycling a computer isn’t as easy as recycling a Coke can, yet.

The first thing you must do is find a recycling center. The Electronic Industries Alliance, a trade group for manufacturers of computer hardware, provides a clickable map of the United States on its Web site—to find a local recycler, simply click on your state. If your state doesn’t have listings, You can use a search tool to find national recycling programs or nearby alternatives. The National Recycling Coalition also lets you look up electronics recycling centers in your area.

One last thing to do before leaving your computer at a recycling center is to ask the center personnel where old equipment is stored. There are some centers that send American electronics junk overseas, creating another environmental mess by shifting the garbage around. You’ll want to make sure you’re not contributing, directly or indirectly, to this growing problem.

Happy trails

With just a little effort, you can get rid of your computer while gaining a few extra dollars toward your next computer purchase, the satisfaction of passing the computer on to someone who needs it, or the knowledge that you’re helping reduce electronic waste.

Sidebar: All things must pass

Before you sell or donate your old computer equipment, here are some things to consider.

• Have you deleted all personal files from the computer?

• Is the operating system intact? Can you include the software when you donate the machine? Some organizations and individuals may require it.

• Do you have software licenses for all programs installed on the computer? Can you provide them to the organization or person?

• Can you also provide a mouse and keyboard? Although computer refurbishers usually accept individual items, other groups may ask for whole systems.

• Have you contacted the organization in question to check their guidelines for donation? Have you made sure you can write off the donation?

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