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Field Notes Recycle Your PC
Jim Lynch is Program Director for computer recycling and reuse at TechSoup.org, a San Francisco-based nonprofit whose mission is to supply very low-cost hardware, software, and know-how to charities around the world.
© 2008 Microsoft Corporation and CMP Media, LLC. All rights reserved; reproduction in part or in whole without permission is prohibited.
The Community Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher (MAR) program (microsoft.com/mar) is an extraordinary and relatively unknown project of the Microsoft Unlimited Potential initiative, in which Microsoft supports diverse projects to improve education, create businesses and jobs, and generate sustainable economic opportunities for many underserved communities. Started in the U.K. in 2000, the Community MAR program now consists of more than 800 PC refurbishers in 50 countries around the world.
One of the most amazing aspects of the Community MAR program is that it is able to supply licenses for Windows® 2000 and Windows XP for only $5 USD. MARs supply these licenses—over 200,000 a year—on refurbished PCs to nonprofit organizations, schools, libraries, colleges, and, in the U.S., technology-access programs for low-income or disabled individuals. In this way, Community MARs reach those on the wrong side of the digital divide, providing access to educational and employment opportunities.
In pursuit of reaching underserved children, Community MARs span the globe. For example, Operation Homelink supplies low-income U.S. military families with computers; Computer Aid International in the U.K. is the largest non-government organization supplying computers to Africa; and the Computers for Schools Canada network of refurbishers supplies a significant portion of the computers that go to Canadian schools.
The Value of Reuse
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in cooperation with the University of Tennessee has recently demonstrated the value of electronics reuse in terms of energy, materials, CO2, and toxic emissions. According to their Electronics Environmental Benefits Calculator (eerc.ra.utk.edu/ccpct/eebc/eebc.html), reusing just one computer with a CRT monitor saves:
- 30 lbs. of hazardous waste
- 77 lbs. of solid waste
- 77 lbs. of materials
- 147 lbs. (17.5 gallons) of water from being polluted
- 32 tons of air from being polluted
- 1,333 lbs. of CO2 from being emitted
- 7,719 kilowatts of energy
It is also the equivalent of taking ½ of a car off the road for a year.
In fact, the Community MAR program came about in 2000 to help increase the flow of working equipment to schools and charities in the U.K. that traditionally had limited access to technology. The program expanded to the U.S. and Australia in 2003 and became global in 2005. It is now available to all types of refurbishers (commercial, noncommercial, government, and school-based). Along the way, it has also created a vibrant computer reuse and refurbishing industry.
One of the less-obvious benefits of the Community MAR program is the environmental one. Extending the life of electronic equipment is the most efficient form of recycling because it retains the highest function of a device and generates the highest economic, environmental, and social rewards. End-of-life recycling is certainly good and necessary, but it loses 10-30 percent of the materials and energy in any given item.
Not surprisingly, manufacturing computers has a huge environmental cost. According to environmental scientist Eric D. Williams of Arizona State University, producing the average 53-pound desktop computer and monitor requires 530 pounds of fossil fuels, 50 pounds of chemicals, and 3,330 pounds of water. Extending its life by two or three years saves 5 to 20 times more energy than end-of-life recycling over the computer's lifecycle (see the "Value of Reuse" sidebar for more astonishing figures).
Overall, through this innovative program, Microsoft helps create opportunities that can transform communities by bringing the benefits of technology to people in need. A surprising added benefit is that the Community MAR program has raised public awareness of and support for computer reuse.