PC Recycling Consumes 20x More Energy Than Reuse

Conventional wisdom: recycling is typically the best option for the stuff I don't want anymore.

Little-known factoid: recycling a PC consumes 20 times more energy than reusing it, according to a study by Eric Williams for the United Nations.

I was pretty stunned when I read that fact, too. As fun as it is to upgrade to the fastest machine I can get, figures like the above give me pause when I think about upgrading and disposing of my older PC. It also makes you realize the incredible environmental impact that Microsoft is belching onto the planet by producing such a lousy piece of bloatware that is Windows Vista. Just think about how many PCs were made irrelevant in the eyes of their owners when they chose to upgrade to Vista, as well as how much energy went into the the recycling of the 'old' PCs and the creation of their replacements. We should tally it up and send Microsoft the bill for the economic externalities it dumps onto society.

Luckily we Linuxers have more options. We can obtain those old PCs and load Linux onto them, which is certainly lighter than Windows Vista. Furthermore, if the PC is creaky old, we can install Linux with lightweight desktops like Xfce.

Now I only wish we could somehow install Splashtop onto older machines. Splashtop is a Linux-based application that you can boot right into within few seconds (even if it's a Windows machine) without a full-fledged boot to access core applications like Firefox, a mail client and Skype. I would go out and get a bunch of old laptops and have them around the house for spur-of-the-moment Web and email access.

Wouldn't that be a great use for our old hardware?


James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal.


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re-use of PC's

bobincanada's picture

Just this past weekend I brought an old 350 MHz. Pentium II back to life using the PCLinuxOS-based "Tiny Me" distro. I am giving it away to a friend who doesn't have much money.

A couple of years ago the municipal government had one of those special "recycling/dispose of household hazardous wastes" days.

They had a "bin" for old computers and electronic gizmos. I could see that many of the computers could have very easily been brought back to life...and weren't in fact all that old...just seeing "ATX" boxes. When I inquired about scrounging a couple I was told "no"...they had given this recycling company an "exclusive" contract.

In the last year I've scrounged two Pentium III's, an early vintage Pentium IV and an AMD AthlonPro 1200...from the curb heading for the garbage.

Microsoft is not a "friend of planet earth". They bring out ever more bloated software that results in perfectly good computers being tossed out. Not only that, older peripheral devices often get tossed because there are no Windows drivers available for Windows X(tra) P(iggy) and Windows (Hasta la) Vista!

As a recycler

Boot's picture

I'm an electronics recycler and I know it always hurts me to see people not reusing things that still have a lot of life left in them. I started a refurbishing and resale program as well as donations to alleviate the problem and it's going very well. We've been selling them with Linux installed and have everything from 100MHz on up, with a lot of positive response. Either way is better than landfilling, but hopefully more people will open up to buying reused as time goes on.

Just to get the discussion started...

Anonymous's picture

...money is the root of all evil.

Yeah, that's a bit off-topic. However, I wish I lived in a world where knowledge and merit, not dollars and possessions, were the measure of value.

No, you got it a bit wrong....

Mark Dean's picture

The quote you are looking for is 'the LOVE of money is the root of all evil'. Money is a tool, a utility, a way to attempt to asses value, and a protection. But like any tool, it can be abused and used for evil or hurtful desires and schemes...

Unless you really think that the object, money in this case, is evil but I don't agree with that line of thinking. It is generally the use to which items are put to that detirmines whether they are evil or not. For example, a common kitchen knife is not evil, but it can be used to do the most evil of all things...


James Gray's picture

Well put, Mark. The problem is when the weaker side of our nature, i.e. our greed and shortsightedness, wins out over our more enlightened side. In the case of products, we somehow have a hard time seeing what is in our long-term interests, such as buying the energy-saving model that is more expensive up front but much more economical over the long term. We tend to be very blind in that way.

James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal.