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Hoarders--Electronics Edition: Cast-off computers could earn (and save) departments money

Cast-off computers could earn (and save) departments money

Chances are, most campus cupboards harbor a stash of outdated or broken electronic equipment. The CPU with the busted fan, the cartridges for the printer replaced four years ago, the printer replaced four years ago, cables and chargers of all kinds…it's all in there, quietly collecting dust.

It's like leaving money piled in the closet. These outmoded heaps are not as worthless as they look. Any IU department can contact IU Surplus to remove unwanted electronic equipment at no charge, then either resell or recycle it. If the price is high enough, the department gets a cut of the sale. The buyer gets a perfectly usable computer for cheap. The university recoups some of its costs. And the environment isn't needlessly assaulted for the materials to build a new product, or by the toxic metals from electronic equipment left to pollute a landfill.

"The production of each computer and monitor can require up to 530 pounds of oil, 48 pounds of chemicals, and one and a half tons of water," said Noma Maier, UITS Sustainable IT Services project manager. "Each used computer sold or recycled means those resources do not have to be newly refined, mined, or created. When you think of the number of computers that we're repurposing, it's a huge cumulative effect."

A complete home PC system – that's computer, mouse, keyboard, and 15-inch monitor – sells for about $150. (Macs have a slightly higher resale value.) IU Surplus resold 9,000 computers last year and recycled countless others – with computer sales alone generating about $194,000 for the university in 2013, according to Todd Reid, marketing manager for IU Surplus Stores/IU Warehouse.  

Refurbished computers are thoroughly tested before resale, but don't come with warranties. Customers with concerns about a computer's performance are encouraged to set up the computer on site and try it before they buy it. Campus departments that would like to repurpose broken or outmoded equipment need only fill out a quick form under "Transfer an Item" on the IU Surplus Stores website.

All hard drives must be wiped before IU Surplus arrives to collect unwanted items. If the equipment is broken, it's helpful to mark it as such because IU Surplus can repair and resell it in some cases. Also note that IU Surplus cannot accept personal electronic devices for resale or recycling, but Monroe County Recycling Centers can.

Campus IT professionals are also welcome to contact IU Surplus for spare parts. "They should check here before they purchase something to rebuild or repair a computer because we probably have it," Reid said. "We have an entire area where computers we can't refurbish are being torn apart screw by screw for recycling, so anything they need is probably here. We have cables, wiring, all sorts of things."

On the flip side, if your department has excess goods (of any sort) another department could use, you can post those items on the university’s redistribution list as either for sale or for free. This saves the university money and keeps usable items out of storage or the landfill.

IU Surplus is very active on Facebook, as they never know what they're going to get or when. For the latest deals, check out the IU Surplus Facebook page.

If you're a department on a regional campus, visit the Knowledge Base for advice on repurposing or recycling your old equipment.