My last monster load of dead hardware was being taken away for recycling over the holiday break, making way for the new hardware that will be arriving in a month or so. We're keeping plenty of monitors and the better PCs are being distributed around the school as either thin clients or standalone computers in low-availability settings, but the dying PII's we've been nursing along, the stacks of half-broken parts, and everything else I've refused to throw away are gone. When our choice was old donated hardware or no hardware at all, I was utterly indiscriminate about the computers I accepted as donations. As a result, if the computers worked at all, their lifespan was often quite short and we accumulated junk very quickly. These computers were rarely donated because they were of such extraordinary quality. Rather, we were lucky if we could find businesses or agencies that needed state-of-the-art equipment and might surplus the occasional PIII or previous-generation workstation.
So now that we've finally cleared out the mounds of junk, I have been prohibited from accepting any more donations and, frankly, don't need to anymore. I no longer need to have dozens of computers and various parts waiting in the wings when the machines in the various labs invariably die. However, how do I tell community members and the groups who have been so generous in the past that I no longer need their out-of-date dinosaurs? For years, I cry poor and now I get some new toys and I'm too good for hand-me-downs? This is a political no-win.
I can't take anymore donations because I don't have the time or space (or the necessity any longer) to fix and store elderly machines. However, in a small, poor community where funding is hard to come by and memories are long, my rejection will be remembered not as a solid business decision, but as a personal affront. In the years to come, I get to go back to the community and ask for additional funding to maintain and upgrade my spiffy new labs or purchase new laptops for the teachers when I turned well-meaning donations away just a short time before.
We all know that donations can be more trouble than they are worth if there are any reasonable alternatives. Members of our communities lack that understanding. So what are we to do? I recommend facilitating recycling of old computer parts for the community. There are a number of recyclers across the country who are licensed to remove, sell, reuse, or otherwise dispose of all the horrible stuff lurking inside our computers. When almost 75% of PCs end up in landfills, leaching lead, mercury, and whatever other awfulness, as well as never decomposing, schools can do a real service to the environment and community by running such recycling programs. This also helps mitigate the perception of rejection (even if we will never use the donations).
The real hurdle is cost. Often, recyclers charge a pretty penny to dispose of these machines. To some extent, the cost is not unjustified, given the complexities of dealing with toxic waste and inextricable bits of metal and silicon. However, there are many companies, given a few moments Googling, that will take your PCs for free. You may need to agree to purchase ink or toner from a particular company or may need to transport the parts yourself. However, the good will (and good karma) that you can generate far outweighs the extra overhead. I'm sure it will still be easier than nursing along your herd of dinosaurs.