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Stump The Geeks: Give your old tech a new purpose

By Tyler Dukes, McClatchy Newspapers –

Nothing is more effective at making your most beloved gadgets obsolete than the holidays. Unwrap the gift of a thinner flat screen, a sleeker cellphone or a lighter laptop, and your old devices likely won’t survive through New Year’s.

But in the right hands, that outdated tech may still have some shelf life. With a little effort, you can dispose of your old gear without ending up on the wrong side of the law — and earn cash or help others in the process.


DO SOME GOOD: Old computers are worth way more in the hands of needy students than in landfills. That’s the idea behind the Kramden Institute, a Durham, N.C., nonprofit that gives refurbished systems to children in grades three through 12.

The charity accepts desktops and laptops less than five years old, provided they meet a few other minimum requirements. Once you drop your item off, one of Kramden’s 1,500 volunteers will wipe it, fix it up and award it to students nominated by teachers and principals.

According to Executive Director Michael Abensour, the group awarded about 2,300 computers across North Carolina in 2011 and is setting its goal higher next year. Even if your old PC doesn’t seem worthy of charity, Abensour said his organization will probably put it to good use.

“We’ll usually scavenge through any donation and find something we need,” he said.

As a Microsoft-registered refurbisher, he said, Kramden trains its volunteers to clear off data according to industry standards, so you don’t have to worry about personal information falling into the wrong hands. Anything they don’t use is recycled responsibly.

Although Kramden focuses its attention on North Carolina, other groups across the country — Free Geek in Portland, Ore., for example — do similar things.


GET PAID: If you’re looking to dispose of devices like cellphones, Apple computers or video cameras, you might as well make some money off your upgrade. Companies like BuyMyTronics offer to pay for some of your old electronics — even if they’re less than functional.

Visit the website and answer a few questions about your device, and you’ll receive an instant quote. They’ll even give you a free shipping label to print, or send a box to your home to mail back.

Checks arrive in the mail about two weeks later, according to CEO Brett Mosley. He said his company is able to pay back 50 to 75 percent of the purchase price for some devices, particularly if they are Apple products.

Users also can participate in the company’s Phone2Food program, which donates the buyback value to UNICEF to fight famine in East Africa.

BuyMyTronics sells most of the 40,000 devices it refurbishes annually via wholesale markets or eBay. Mosley said really old devices are “sent down the electronic food chain” for recycling.

 TRASH IT RESPONSIBLY: Not every electronic device is destined for reuse, but that doesn’t mean pitching that 1999 Dell tower straight into the trash is kosher.

In North Carolina, in fact, it’s illegal.

As of July 1 this year, the legislature banned the disposal of TVs, computers and other peripherals in landfills. According to Ben Habets, general manager of Waste Industries, many of these devices contain mercury and other toxic materials that need to be disposed of properly.

Almost every county in the state has a recycling center that accepts these electronic devices. In some places, you can even arrange for pickup.

Getting rid of your obsolete tech may not be quite as fun as unboxing your new gadgets, but you’ll probably feel better once you make room for your holiday haul. Whether that warm, fuzzy feeling is a result of giving to charity, collecting cash or avoiding fines is up to you.

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