Free to a Good Home: Junk

I was pricing a low-end desktop computer the other day. When configuring it, I noticed that if I added a four-year warranty, it would cost more than the entire system! We've really come to the point where computer hardware is like a plastic fork. If a tine breaks off, it gets thrown away. Sadly, although throwing away plastic forks is rough on the environment, used computers are so much more so.

Thankfully, green is the new pink, and everyone seems to be interested in conservation and recycling. The problem is it's easier to talk about recycling computer hardware than to do it. I work at a school district, and we have a closet full of old CRT monitors just waiting for an opportunity to be recycled. There aren't any recycling places in our area, and thanks to the lead and glass, CRT monitors are very expensive to ship. So, they sit in a closet collecting dust.

Some amazing organizations out there are working hard to focus on another R, and rather than recycling old equipment, they reuse it. Places like Free Geek in Portland, which I had the pleasure of touring last summer, take donated computer parts to create usable systems that are sold or donated back to the community. Thanks to Linux, those systems aren't encumbered with licensing issues. It's really a great way to get working, viable, stable computer systems in the hands of people who would likely never be able to afford one.

Although I'm not suggesting everyone should start a local Free Geek (although how cool would that be!), it's possible someone in your area already is doing something similar. Before you put that 17" CRT monitor and Pentium II computer on the curb, try giving it away in the local newspaper. If you like the idea of building computers for those in need, consider doing a small-scale version of Free Geek in your garage. Don't worry about running out of hardware, the local school district likely has computer parts piled in closets it would love for you to “recycle”. With the power and flexibility of Linux, and the steady supply of aging computers, perhaps the path to world domination is by repurposing last year's Windows computers!

Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing. You can contact Shawn via e-mail, ljeditor@linuxjournal.com.

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