How to give your old computer a second life

Please consider donating your old machines, people need them! At the end of this post you'll find a link to 3 local computer reuse programs worth your time and consideration. These were hand picked for Palo Alto residents with the help of our Zero Waste team. If you're in the bay area, check out RecycleWhere.org for even more local options.

Reuse vs Recycling

Before we get to the list, let me emphasize the importance of reuse vs recycling.  While reuse is better than recycling for many things, it is even more important when it comes to laptops and PCs. Why?

  1. Reusing your computer can help close the digital divide. Before the pandemic, this library hosted over 100,000 public computer sessions annually, or about 250 sessions per day, every day of the year.
  2. Reusing saves resources. It took a large amount of energy and other natural resources to create your computer, often referred to as embodied energy. By reusing a still functional device, you are conserving and more fully utilizing those resources.
  3. Last but not least, reusing further reduces the need to recycle. 

Keep in mind that if your old computer doesn't work at all, Palo Alto residents can place most electronics in their blue recycle cart for recycling. The City works closely with GreenWaste to make sure there is a market for the recycled materials we accept, and they prioritizes domestic markets. Sadly, as reported by The Verge in late 2019, not all recycling programs have these same goals in mind.

Before You Donate

As suggested by the EPA, you may want to consider removing or recycling any old batteries before donating. Palo Alto residents (and businesses) can take advantage of our Hazardous Waste Program to do so. I would also highly recommend backing up any data, even if you don't think you need it. For privacy and security reasons, it might also make sense to reformat those same hard drives before you donate as well. Some computers might also have the option to perform a factory reset. This support article from Apple and blog post from Consumer Reports offers some advice in that regard.

View the List: Local Computer Reuse Centers

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