Where do local computers go to die? The dumpster, all too often; that's where even some IT managers (unaware of the toxic downside) send their companies' cast-offs. That's a no-no, though not a very well-publicized one. Seeking a fit burial for my dust-catching 386, I called the Health Department "Household Hazardous Waste" number, buried in the Blue Pages under "Seattle Utilities/Solid Waste Utility," and was told, "Computers and monitors are dangerous waste and cannot go out in the regular garbage." So where can they go? The receptionist offered some refurbishers and recyclers who'd take a rig as old as mine. "Let's see, you're in Seattle? I have one in Burien. I guess that's not so close. . . ."
Finally she found some nearer prospects, and I called down the list. The Computer Bank Charity (365-4657) no longer took anything older than a 486. Pacific Iron and Metal (628-6232) accepted only CPUs, not monitors or keyboards. I left a message at Pacific Northwest Recycling (322-8461), which supposedly would pick up any quantity of Macs and PCs, but never heard back. The fellow who answered at PC Trades (523-1944) wanted only "Pentium or better—386s and 486s are landfill. We were recycling for quite some time, but we got a plethora of stuff that wouldn't go anywhere."
I didn't call the floppy disk recycler the haz-waste office recommended, nor the firms that would, for a price, purge confidential files from trash-bound hard drives. But I thought of one other prospect, and hit pay dirt, as it were. Re-PC (623-9151 in Seattle, 575-0249 in Tukwila) says it will take up to ten desktop units of any vintage: "If it's old enough, maybe we'll put it in our computer museum." The haz-waste people should put Re-PC on their referral list.
Meanwhile, King County, in collaboration with the EPA and various other agencies, is trying to design a more thorough, consumer-friendly answer to computer waste. Lisa Sepanski, the manager of this "Computer Recovery Project," says she hopes to find a way the "existing recycling infrastructure" can accommodate those pesky monitors. "We're speaking with manufacturers to see if they'll contribute. We'd hoped to kick it off in the first quarter of next year"—an apt way to celebrate the new year 2K. But that deadline's been pushed, Sepanski adds: "We underestimated how long it would take to get some of these companies to talk to us."