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Sep, 2009

Computer Refurbishing Program

One of our missions at UjimaCare is to supply low-cost refurbished IT equipment to nonprofits and underserved people in developing countries. That in itself is good and useful, but a surprising additional benefit of this is that refurbished and remanufactured electronic devices provide the most environmentally friendly way to acquire and use computers, copiers and other IT equipment.

The scientific basis for the environmental kudos refurbished IT equipment receive is from Dr. Eric Williams of Arizona State University in his book, co-authored with Ruediger Kuehr, Computers and the Environment, Understanding and Managing Their Impacts.

In it they find that the environmental cost to produce a computer and monitor is immense, especially for microprocessors. Producing the average 53-pound desktop computer and CRT monitor requires 530 pounds of fossil fuels, 50 pounds of chemicals, and 3,330 pounds of water. Adding additional life to computers saves 5 to 20 times more energy than recycling over the computer's life cycle. It's much better for the environment to extend the life of a computer for extra two or three years than to buy a new one every three to four years.

The thing I found perhaps most interesting in the Williams and Kuehr findings is that 75 percent of PC energy consumption has already happened before a new computer is ever switched on. It is used up in the production phase. If this equipment has a six or seven year lifespan rather than three or four years, the environmental impact of this for even a fraction of the 1.1 billion computers now in use in world will be immense.

The green argument for electronics reuse goes beyond Williams and Kuehr, however. Paul Hawkin, in his book, Natural Capitalism, finds that the volume of material that goes into manufacturing a laptop is 4,000 to 1. When you discard a 5 pound laptop you are also throwing away the 20,000 pounds of raw materials it took to make it.

The US EPA Electronics Environmental Benefits Calculator shows environmental savings for computer recycling and reuse in terms of energy, materials, CO2, toxic emissions, and more. It finds that it is roughly 25 times more beneficial environmentally to reuse computers than to recycle them at 3 to 5 years of age.

The environmental case for electronics reuse aside, one question that always crops up is how refurbished IT equipment compares with new equipment in terms of performance. Most of us have been frustrated by using a three or four year old computer that takes forever to start up and do simple things like open a Web page or send an email message. The main reason for this is that over time, software degrades or become corrupted, developing interoperability conflicts and many other glitches.

A machine that is repaired, cleaned out, and has fresh software installed that is compatible to its original parts pretty much runs as well as the day it was new. One important thing to note is that a four-year-old computer needs software that runs well on four-year-old equipment, and not the latest software versions. The bottom line is that most people do four or five things on computers: email, internet browsing, accounting, multimedia (video and music), and office applications like word processing. Three or four year old equipment does all of that easily.

At UjimaCare another of our missions is to ensure that the refurbished IT equipment that we offer undergoes state-of-the art refurbishment. UjimaCare is a Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher so every computer we refurbish comes with a Microsoft COA (Certificate of Authentication) software installed. Our Refurbished Computer Program (RCP) supplies refurbished laptop and desktop computers to nonprofits and public libraries, and underserved people. The computers come with Windows XP and Office 2003.
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