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Earth Technology

88% of Electronics Exports Reused, Not Dumped 157

Posted by timothy
from the well-at-first-anyhow dept.
retroworks writes "Greenercomputing.com staff covered a study which sheds more light on the controversial practice of exporting used computer equipment overseas. University of Arizona professors Ramzy Kahhat and Eric Williams newly published research, Product or Waste? Importation and End-of-Life Processing of Computers in Peru apparently confirms what WR3A.org says in the Video 'Fair Trade Recycling'. Namely, that most of the exports of used computers imported by buyers overseas (88%) are really for reuse and repair. Otherwise, people would not pay to import them. This bolsters pro-export arguments made in a scholarly article by Charles Schmidt of NIH in 2006. Perhaps what is needed to stem e-waste pollution is not a ban on exports, but for more people to export, so that buyers have more choice of (ethical) suppliers. Put another way: If used computer exports are outlawed, only outlaws will export used computers."
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88% of Electronics Exports Reused, Not Dumped

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  • Mexico (Score:4, Informative)

    by mrmeval (662166) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [lavemrm]> on Sunday August 16, 2009 @04:54PM (#29086495) Journal

    Has pretty strict rules on importing some items. When I worked for an electronics shop repairing TVs in the 90s we sold all of our scrap TVs to a Hispanic gentleman who would take them to Mexico and strip them of usable parts then sell them. He could do this with scrap televisions but could not do it with any part for a computer as those were even more restricted.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That is/was an issue regarding tariffs and the market for repair parts. In the first place, import computing equipment (at the retail level) is subject to a 100% duty. In the second place, the market for computing equipment just isn't the same as it is here in the US.

      Generic electronic equipment (televisions and such) are not subject to similarly high duties, especially if they are non-functional, and there is a much larger after market for televisions than computers.

      The duties applied have less to do with

    • by thej1nx (763573)
      What the so-called researchers ignore are less developed countries like India.

      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/919958.stm [bbc.co.uk]

      Many developed nations dump their own toxic e-waste to third world countries like India. There are plenty of desperadoes who simply BURN the whole she-bang and extract the silver, gold and such metals from the remains after melting it down. In India, the courts actually passed an order against such imports, but the activity continues under the guise of "recycling" used computers

  • makes sense to me (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gurps_npc (621217) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @04:58PM (#29086519) Homepage
    Most of the time the reason we don't fix something is that it costs more to pay someone to repair it then it does to buy something new. I.E. Man hours are expensive.

    But there are lots of places where man hours are a lot cheaper. In a third world country, where they can get the electronics at a per ton cost, it is probably cheaper to pay someone to fix the stuff.

    Not to mention the high black market value of the financial information left on hard drives whose power supply broke so no one bothered to delete them (if they even thought about it.)

    • Re:makes sense to me (Score:5, Informative)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @05:06PM (#29086551) Journal
      In many cases it goes even further than that. In large deployments, you get to the point where(because of a combination of cost of employee downtime, cost of IT tech time, cost of parts/replacements[if you are trying to maintain a consistent system across an organization, rather than merely equivalent specs, these often don't get much cheaper over time]) it becomes attractive to just toss all the machines of a given age, in case they break. This is one of the attractions behind a 3 year or 5 year automatic replacement cycle.

      That leaves you with gigantic piles of machines that aren't broken at all, just no longer a good organizational fit.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Larryish (1215510)

        Yep, and you can get them cheap, by the pallet even.

        Me and a friend picked up 5 P4 boxes from a local defense contractor, minus memory and hard drives, for the price of $0 (we just had to go pick them up).

        Put a half gig of memory and a 40 gig hard drive in each of the 2 that were in marketable condition and sold them for $100 apiece locally.

        After roughly 4 hours total, between picking the machines up, eBay for some cheap memory and storage, doing a quick install using the COA numbers on the case stickers. a

        • by jhol13 (1087781)

          $155/4h is exactly the reason companies cannot/will not do it - it is not profitable enough.

          I myself have gotten some freebies from my ex-company, installed Linux on them and gave them away (for free) as net computers. Problem: display was usually bad.
          Only problem is that hard disk policy was getting too strict (it is not enough that *I* wipe the disk, it should have been wiped by the IT guys).

          Well, anyway, that was the ex-company, in current I do not get to the "scrap yard" as I know nobody there.

        • by RockDoctor (15477)

          doing a quick install using the COA numbers on the case stickers.

          Did you read and agree to the EULA on these? I'd be pretty surprised if those COAs were legal to use except on the original hardware by the original customer.

          Total cost to us: ~$45 and 4 hours
          Total profit: ~$155

          When the -knock- comes at your door ... you can use that profit to hire a lawyer to tell you that you're screwed. 155/4 = $38.75/hour, which is not going to be high enough to get more than an hour or two of lawyer time.

          • doing a quick install using the COA numbers on the case stickers.

            Did you read and agree to the EULA on these? I'd be pretty surprised if those COAs were legal to use except on the original hardware by the original customer.

            Total cost to us: ~$45 and 4 hours Total profit: ~$155

            When the -knock- comes at your door ... you can use that profit to hire a lawyer to tell you that you're screwed. 155/4 = $38.75/hour, which is not going to be high enough to get more than an hour or two of lawyer time.

            So let me get this straight: suppose I purchase two computers, and resell one to my parents. That makes the COA illegal for them to use? http://www.microsoft.com/howtotell/content.aspx?pg=coa [microsoft.com] is not really informative, could you explain why I would need a lawyer?

            • by RockDoctor (15477)

              So let me get this straight: suppose I purchase two computers, and resell one to my parents. That makes the COA illegal for them to use?

              Very likely.
              [On preview, I see that goalposts have shifted. Initially it sounded like you were talking about getting machines that were being sold off from a business upgrading, but now it sounds like you're buying at retail. Below I've assumed that you're talking of disposal equipment from a business re-fit. Stuff brough for retail may well be different.)

              Compaq (or HP, Del

              • So you are saying Microsoft has done away with the First sale doctrine [wikipedia.org]? Software companies always claim so, but I don't believe they have done so.

                Oh, and your petrol tax example was a bad one. The use is not licensed in that case, they just use the dye to detect petrol which has not been taxed. I'm sure if somehow bought offroad fuel, paid the tax, and could show the fuel in your tank was the fuel you paid tax (this is the kicker), then they wouldn't have a problem with it. It has to do with paying road t

                • by RockDoctor (15477)

                  So you are saying Microsoft has done away with the First sale doctrine?

                  Never heard of it. Does it apply in my jurisdiction (either of them)? I suspect not, for the following reason ...

                  Software companies always claim so, but I don't believe they have done so.

                  My employers, in their sales contracts, have never permitted resale of software, or of the dongles which secure it's usage. In the past, our control was relatively coarse-grained - version 1.x dongles simply wouldn't work with version 2.x etc - but the

          • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

            The OEM license key is tied to the machine, not to the customer.

            As long as it is the original equipment, you can re-sell that machine and re-install that OS as many times as you like.

            What you CAN'T do with an OEM license, is use that license on a different machine, even if you removed it (and the license) on the old machine.

            Retail boxes of Windows are transferable from PC to PC provided you remove the software from the old PC first; OEM licenses are tied to the machine itself and not transferrable to a new

            • by RockDoctor (15477)

              Get it? Who owns the PC has no bearing on whether the license is valid or not.

              That, like everything else, depends on the details of the license in question.

              As far as I can tell, the machines in question are ones formerly owned by a business. So, the license might be an OEM one, or it might be a retail one.

              But the business is a "defence contractor" - so potentially at least they're actually on a government license (does "defence" include mercenary work too in the poster's country?) - does that follow the sam

            • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

              ...certainly not the case.

              Woops, preview is my friend.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        In many cases it goes even further than that. In large deployments, you get to the point where(because of a combination of cost of employee downtime, cost of IT tech time, cost of parts/replacements[if you are trying to maintain a consistent system across an organization, rather than merely equivalent specs, these often don't get much cheaper over time]) it becomes attractive to just toss all the machines of a given age, in case they break. This is one of the attractions behind a 3 year or 5 year automatic replacement cycle.

        That leaves you with gigantic piles of machines that aren't broken at all, just no longer a good organizational fit.

        This is true and very helpful for people like me who import parts on a very small basis to build cheap computers for schools here in Costa Rica and neighboring Nicaragua. The local rural schools just don't have the funding to buy even one computer for their staff and students to use. Heck! They don't have enough money for books, toilet paper, or soap in the bathrooms so the kids don't keep getting sick! A few of us have a small group who bring parts back with us each time we visit the USA and then use t

      • Re:makes sense to me (Score:5, Interesting)

        by mcrbids (148650) on Monday August 17, 2009 @12:36AM (#29088735) Journal

        Years ago, I used to have a connection with a recycling company in Sacramento with just this sort of marketplace. I would go down to their warehouse (a few hours drive from my hometown) and pick up a huge truckload of computers right off the pallets. Good deals, too. 3-5 year old computers, monitors, keyboards that had been well treated, for sale as scrap.

        I took them to my hometown and made quite a good living reformatting them, putting some spit and polish on them, and selling them as "remanufactured" computers. I offered a generous (90 day) warrantee but honestly, it was rare that I had anybody take me up on it. They were generally high-quality machines that had been well treated so problems were, by far, the exception.

        The big deal was making them LOOK nice. For keyboards, I used to use a garden hose, a nylon bristle broom, dish soap, and the sidewalk in front of my house. (which got lots of afternoon sun) I'd squirt dish soap all over the keyboards, spray them down with the hose, and stand over them, brushing them vigorously with the broom. After the grit was all out of them, I'd rinse them profusely with the hose washing out as much of the soap and grit as I could. Then I let them dry for a while. California valley sun is VERY warm, so it only took a day or so.

        Surprisingly, some 90% of the keyboards worked perfectly after that, and looked almost new. A hour or so of work and $0.25 of soap would usually result in $200 or so worth of clean, fresh keyboards, otherwise attained at $1 a pop.

        O/S software was easy - they often came preloaded with some old corporate software image. If there wasn't a license sticker, I'd just dump the registry for the license key, grab the O/S CD, and 45 minutes later was up and going. (sucked when MS changed their license terms to prevent resale like this!)

        Since my margin was about 3:1, I could take the time to see that each system was well tested and stable before I sold. That's not true for many new systems sold, I might add. I actually made more money on the used systems per system than I did the new systems at 4-5x the cost!

        Of course, this was back when a "new" computer STARTED at $1,500. I saw the writing on the wall when the purchase price dipped under $1,000, right around Y2K, and sold out. There's just no market for used computers in the 'states, since labor costs are high and prices are low enough to not be worth it.

        But for the 3rd world, this doesn't surprise me at *all*. Computers passed the point of basic usability years ago. Heck, I have a 6 year old laptop that has survived 3 years of my own rigorous use, and has been passed down through 2 other employees since. It still works fine today, I used it to test Windows 7! It plays Hulu/Netflix videos just fine, and even does a passable job with many of the games out today. If it wasn't for running Vista under VMWare, I could still be using it today.

    • Re:makes sense to me (Score:5, Interesting)

      by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@jwsmyth ... minus physicist> on Sunday August 16, 2009 @05:11PM (#29086585) Homepage Journal

          There's actually a really good market here in the states for "recycled" electronics. I know a big company who buys lots (like pallet fulls, not just a large quantity) from gov't auctions, and sometimes they're simply contracted by the government to haul off the equipment. They're perfectly good working units. They sell them through their store, and on eBay. What they can't sell because they're broken, they break down to components, and then have some 3rd parties that break them down more for precious metals.

          They're SUPPOSE to wipe all sensitive information. I have received routers that were still configured for government agencies and large businesses. I don't know how they ever made it out the door of the original facilities, but they did. I've bought some really nice, and previously really expensive, equipment for real cheap. Sometimes some doesn't work quite right, but I'd say I have a >90% success rate with it.

          Those shops never test them though, so I buy untested, and absorb my losses. BTW, if anyone needs a nice Cisco 5005, I have one sitting in the garage that needs a good home. :) I swapped it out for a Cisco WS-C2980G because it took up less space and less power. :) That, and I have 3 working spare 2980G's in case the first breaks. :)

          They also sell lots of hard drives, but what would I do with 1,000 untested (i.e., not formatted) 80Gb drives, besides pilfer them for information? :) Nah, I have better things to do with my time.

    • by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @05:14PM (#29086599) Homepage Journal
      Well, sort of. Back when we were playing Zork with our EGA Video cards, we didn't have 7 layer PCBs with IC so tight that I would need a million dollar robot to replace. But nowadays, computer components (or really, electronics in general) are just not repairable, even if you wanted to.

      I can't imagine these are actually getting "repaired" insomuch that they are likely taking good parts from many broken machines and making good ones from them.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Opportunist (166417)

        I guess it's more "consumer replacable parts" repairs. I.e. find the broken part (is it the CPU? The mainboard? The power supply? The ram?) and replace with spare parts from other boxes that are equally "broken", but at different parts.

        Most of the time it's economically unfeasible to repair a 3 year old computer. We are simply too expensive to tinker and toy with it. Ship the broken boxes over to where manpower doesn't cost anything, compared to the parts.

        • by CAIMLAS (41445)

          Actually, what makes it feasible for them is not so much the manpower costs, it's the part costs.

          For you to replace the components in a 3-year-old computer, it's going to cost anywhere from $30-80 or so, per part, provided you do not upgrade, then another $3-8 or so in shipping.

          For a company, it's just not worth it at all. They've got their deployment, which they have cycled out; or they bought another corporation's 3-year-old computers to use, and are then ready to dispose of them.

          Yes, the foreign man hour

      • Re:makes sense to me (Score:4, Informative)

        by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @05:58PM (#29086837) Journal

        I can't imagine these are actually getting "repaired" insomuch that they are likely taking good parts from many broken machines and making good ones from them.

        Probably mostly true, although I've seen people throw away 'broken' computers where the only problem was that Windows was infected with too much spyware. I've also seen machines where one of the motherboard cables has come loose, or the PSU has blown a fuse, being discarded as not worth the effort of fixing. These machines are easy to repair, if you can be bothered.

        • Re:makes sense to me (Score:4, Interesting)

          by mikael (484) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @08:06PM (#29087537)

          I've patched up my favorite laptop over five times now - replaced the LCD, upgraded the HDD, replaced the cooling fan assembly, upgraded the memory and replaced a circuit board that switched the LCD off. Each time it's been cheaper than buying a new laptop. Sending the machine away would have taken two weeks, cost at least a 200 pound service charge plus the price of marked up components, not forgetting the cost of return and delivery. Otherwise, just buying the parts and swapping them out just costs far less. Finding where to buy the spare parts was the hardest part.

          • by MBGMorden (803437)

            There are several issues though. Yes, your repairs were cheaper than a new laptop, but as the overall system ages the MTBF gets lower and lower, so your machine will typically need service more often than a newer machine would. With computers there's also a serious issue: computers become outdated regarding their capabilities very quickly. If you can repair a 5 year old laptop for $200 but can get a new one for $300 then the extra $100 might be money well spent on simply getting a better system in the pr

            • by mikael (484)

              It's a dual core 2.8Ghz Intel Pentium 4 with a 4:3 ratio screen (1400x1050). The only thing that really drags it down is the Geforce 5600 graphics chip with 64Mbyte of RAM. With high performance applications moving to multithreading and parallel processing using CUDA and OpenCL, that is the big limitation.

        • by PitaBred (632671)
          If you want nice, free computers find dumpsters around the dorms of your local university around the time the kids head out for the summer. There are lots of kids riding on mommy and daddy's dime that just toss their computer since they'll get a new one next year. Dumpster diving is all kinds of fun :)
          • Why go to the dorms? The engineering department has a 3-year rolling upgrade program and generally buys much better hardware than the students can afford. Talk to the techs, and you don't even need to go diving. It costs them a fair amount per machine to have them properly disposed of (they aren't allowed to just throw them away). If they leave them on a trolley somewhere and someone happens to walk off with them then it saves them a bit of money.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Mprx (82435)
        Electrolytic capacitor failure is still a problem. The famous industrial espionage incident with the incomplete electrolyte recipe is in the past, but manufacturers still try to save money with barely adequate capacitors that won't stand up to high temperatures or dirty power. They can usually be replaced by hand soldering.
      • And yet in the last few years I did a lot of replacing capacitors on motherboards.

        I'm not saying it was easy, but it was possible.

      • by citizenr (871508)

        we didn't have 7 layer PCBs with IC so tight that I would need a million dollar robot to replace.

        its a joke, right? I can still replace ATI gpu on x360 with handheld Hot Air. It wont be 100% reliable (without proper alignment and xray to confirm the swap) but it will work and cost me 30 mins + some solder paste. Same goes for motherboards and graphic cards. Everything can be fixed, you just need skill and knowledge.

        • That's a very broad and thoughtless claim. Tell me, what would you do to fix it if the board suddenly stopped working? I suppose you could test all of t he thousands of surface mount parts on that board, but you'd need the right equipment, the right documentation for every part in the system, and endless patience.

          You consider yourself some kind of tech genius, but you're not - the problem you've described is widely known and documented, and easy to diagnose, and has a known solution. It's one thing to f

          • by citizenr (871508)
            Im far from genius, and that is my point. Diagnosing mobo/gfx/phone is simple, electronics is not magic. It takes about 10 minutes per item to asses if it can be fixed without the need for 100K equipment, not to mention millions of dollars(*). Only problem is you need knowledge and skill. Maybe thats why its not done in US :).

            (*) http://www.crc-polska.com/ [crc-polska.com] worked there for a while.
        • We have a 90% success rate for replacing itty bitty 400 pin ICs in the lab at work. the equipment for it is more like $50k rather than a million bucks.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by crazybit (918023)
      I live in Peru and I can tell you:

      1. Most of that imported hardware being sold here are COMPLETE computers (working CPU + keyboard + mouse / monitor for an additional price) after fixing bumps and scratches.
      2. Many of those "used" computers are equal or more powerful than an average ATOM and is being sold at 200 - 300 US$ (new netbooks go for 400+ US$). They are mainly used for people who want internet access and doing their school/university assignments.
      3. The useful spare parts (memory, processors, DV
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by hughbar (579555)
      So, we're driven by our unreasoning worship of numbers to throw away viable stuff that used a lot of resources and energy to produce. Some of the resources are non-renewables so the value can't really be captured by numbers either.

      I live in a poor borough in London. I'm currently trying to Linux-install and re-use computers that are pushed into planned obsolescence by Windows product cycles. These computers are 'good' usually for another 5 years. I was born in the 50s, after the WW2 and our culture has a
  • by Lead Butthead (321013) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @05:09PM (#29086563) Journal

    What happens after that? To where do they get... 'exported' again once they are... 'retired' in those third world country? It's very likely that electronics disposal regulations in those third world countries are nearly as strict as they should be. So really what then?

    • by Dutch Gun (899105) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @05:36PM (#29086729)

      What happens after that? To where do they get... 'exported' again once they are... 'retired' in those third world country? It's very likely that electronics disposal regulations in those third world countries are nearly as strict as they should be. So really what then?

      Computers actually have a pretty long shelf-life if you don't count technological obsolescence. It doesn't mean that an older computer won't be useful for someone, but not as much in a 1st world country, where the cost of obsolescence has outstripped the costs and advantages up relatively frequent upgrades. For example, obsolete systems can be more prone to security vulnerabilities, as they aren't being actively maintained as new exploits are discovered. And with a secondary market, a lot of those 'toxic' components can be pulled out and re-used again.

      By helping these countries advance in technological prowess, we'll be helping them out of 3rd world status. Wealthier nations tend to be more concerned with the environment. People tend not to care as much about the environment when they're barely making enough to buy food, let alone a computer. It's the same as with the population issue in many ways. The population explosion is leveling off in many developed nations. In undeveloped nations, the reproduction rate is still absurdly high.

      The logical answer, it's always seemed to me, is to focus efforts on getting the rest of the world up to speed economically, not to impose our morals and guidelines like lords and masters from on high. A lot of these problems will be easier to solve once people around the world aren't still starving to death.

      • Computer chips may have a long life but capacitors blow up after three to seven years, so that and the cooling fans are what limits the life of a PC.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by TheRaven64 (641858)
      Maybe they're still working? I have a couple of BBCs that still run fine. These were introduced in 1981 and are still useful in some situations. They have a plethora of I/O ports that are very easy to program (I remember using them in design/technology classes to control various bits of electronics) and can drive a TV for display. There's no reason to put them in landfill if they're still doing something useful. You can burn software into ROM for them quite easily and they turn on instantly. A third-w
      • by adolf (21054)

        Is there anything the BBC can do, that a cheap microcontroller cannot in terms of (say) irrigation control?

        If you're driving the thing from a wind turbine, obviously power consumption is a big concern. A big PCB full of TTL ICs is going to be a lot less efficient than a single-package microcontroller.

        So, really (in all seriousness): Why bother?

        • Is there anything the BBC can do, that a cheap microcontroller cannot in terms of (say) irrigation control?

          Yes, one thing. Be available for free in third-world countries 15 years ago. As I said, now it wouldn't make a great deal of sense (although having the programming environment integrated with the controller might safe some effort), but there aren't many BBCs hitting the second-hand market now. Fifteen years ago, there were. What cheap microcontrollers (don't forget to include the development environment) were available back then for less than the price of a donated BBC? And, if they'd built the system

    • Recycling reduces the number new computers being made, which reduces the considerable environmental impact of making them in the first place. Even disposal under better regulation is bad for the environment so the gain is the difference in environmental damage.

      The overall impact is probably good for the environment but bad for people whose health suffers. Perhaps the best solution would be to subsidise better conditions for the workers involved in the final disposal and better final disposal of salvageable

      • by denzacar (181829)

        Recycling reduces the number new computers being made

        Ummm... no.

        How does an old 1GHz computer "recycled" to be used as a typewriter or a web-browser reduce the production of gaming PCs?

        What you are thinking of are cars and various other single purpose household items like TVs, washing machines and refrigerators.
        Those get "recycled" vertically - they perform the same function as they did before only not quite as well as the brand new product would.

        As computers are multipurpose devices, they get recycled horizontally - into a completely different section of the

        • Whether it's horizontal or vertical, it can be regarded as the same effect because of netbooks.

          Producing an Atom cpu will likely result in a similar amount of waste and impact as a Core2 Duo and if recycling a three-year-old machine to Nigeria saves a OTPC production, it has reduced the amount of new computers being made.

          In a world without OTPC or netbooks, there isn't a production of new low end machines, everything is at the top, and your logic worked. But not anymore.

          • Producing an Atom cpu will likely result in a similar amount of waste and impact as a Core2 Duo

            Balderdash!

            1 - Computer is A LOT MORE than a CPU and
            2 - To produce the same amount of "waste" you would need to produce exactly the same thing in exactly the same facility using exactly the same process.
            You don't even get the same results from producing similar Intel and AMD Chips, let alone Atoms etc.

            and if recycling a three-year-old machine to Nigeria saves a OTPC production

            I have NO IDEA what you are trying to say here. What is OTPC? One Table Per Child?
            Did you mean OLPC? If you did, and if you have paid attention to that project (sadly, a failure) you might have noticed severa

    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      Have you actually disposed of any of your old electronics "properly"? Unless you're in a substantial urban environment, it's often difficult to find the correct channels to recycle through even in the US - and then you've got to pay to have it done.

      Locally, there are a dozen or so places to recycle computers. Not one of them will accept bin electronics for recycling (I've tried) - because they are not actually recycling, but stripping the good parts for reuse and resale. The best bet is to pay $10 for a (sm

    • What happens after that? To where do they get... 'exported' again once they are... 'retired' in those third world country? It's very likely that electronics disposal regulations in those third world countries are nearly as strict as they should be. So really what then?

      I agree. It would be better for these third-world people to buy new computers and then have to dispose of them at some point, than buy used computers and have to dispose of them at some point. Much cleaner and less environmental waste.

  • It amazes me how many people throw away perfectly good equipment because windows is running slow, or the drive is crashed, so they think that the whole machine doesn't work anymore. People cannot differentiate between operating system health and hardware health. Also a lot of older tech that is getting phased out is still perfectly usable with windows xp. Even a lowly P4 2ghz isn't all that bad for just web surfing. I was thinking about the rate of PC platform development lately, and it seems to me that the innovation rate is slowing down. Perhaps this is due to there being one single platform (x86) now, but doesn't it seem like things moved so much faster forward in the 90s? I mean we went from 8-bit processors to 32-bit risc monsters on the desktop in like 10 years. Asides from faster busses and dual processors and (finally) 64-bit addressing, how much further have we really come? All these people are reusing 10 year old tech because it still runs today's software (2d software at least) and that isn't something you could say 10 years ago, and that is my point.

    • by bondiblueos9 (1599575) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @05:19PM (#29086633)

      Even a lowly P4 2ghz isn't all that bad for just web surfing.

      He calls a P4 2ghz lowly, but a P4 2ghz is my main computer. Upgraded a couple months ago from a P3 1ghz. And no, it isn't all the bad for web surfing.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ZosX (517789)

        I was stuck on a 1 ghz p3 backup for a month a little while ago. Not bad under ubuntu. Hell I even ran kubuntu on it as it was snappier than gnome. There isn't much you can do with a box like that other than render web pages these days though. You should skim craigslist. I regularly see dual core machines for like $15o-200 right now and you'd be only like a generation or two behind. Nothing wrong with buying 2 year old computers for a decent price.... :)

        I finally bought my first new computer ever though. It

        • There isn't much you can do with a box like that other than render web pages these days though

          Really? I have a couple of 1GHz machines acting as servers, hosting mailing lists, XMPP servers, web and so on. I used to use one for a lot of development, now I use a VM (which is not much faster, when you factor in the increased cost of disk accesses) and it compiled code very quickly. About the only thing it has problems with are compiling big projects (e.g. LLVM) and video editing (I used a 1.5GHz G4 to put together some videos a few years ago. It was fast enough during the editing, but rendering th

        • by evilviper (135110)

          There isn't much you can do with a box like that other than render web pages these days though.

          Avoid the more recent, CPU-hogging apps, and you're good. Blackbox or XFce3, Sylpheed, Dillo, etc, and your box will smoke. It's plenty good enough for playback of all standard-resolution video. The system I'm using as my DVR is clocked at about 1.3GHz.

          Hell, I can point to a handful servers I admin, all under 1GHz, which run the core functions of an entire mid-size company.

      • by CAIMLAS (41445)

        He calls a P4 2ghz lowly, but a P4 2ghz is my main computer. Upgraded a couple months ago from a P3 1ghz.

        Wait, I'm confused. That was an upgrade?

        Clock for clock, the P3 was by far better than the P4. AMD CPUs of that era were superior by quite a bit as well. Really, anything in that 'era' was primarily constrained by RAM. I've got Windows 7 running on a Thinkpad X30 right now (512M, 1.2GHz P3M) which runs better than XP did, but there were plenty of 1-3GHz machines sold then which were barely even able to run what they shipped with (256M) due to all the crap/bloatware installed by the vendors.

        And compared to

    • I use a nearly 10 year old PC at work as my disposable net-connected computer (we have an air gap between our real network and the internets). It's a 333 MHz P2 and running Win2K and FireFox it runs fine, as long as I don't try to use it to watch video. I use it for all of my at-work email, lots of word processing, and viewing and printing PDF's. I also use it to run circuit board design software so I can submit the images over the net to producers.
    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @06:23PM (#29086953) Journal

      I mean we went from 8-bit processors to 32-bit risc monsters on the desktop in like 10 years

      Because there was a compelling reason to. Most 8-bit processors used some banked arrangement of memory that let them access a 16-bit address space, giving them 64KB of RAM. I write articles which are 10-20KB of text. This fits in a 64KB address space, but doesn't leave much room for the text editor. Add in some markup and it's easy to go beyond a 16-bit address space. Most 16-bit processors, similarly, had a scheme for accessing more than a 16-bit address space. The 8086 could access a 20-bit space, for example, letting it address an entire megabyte. Want to do some video editing? 640x480 image with an 8-bit palette is going to use a third of that. Put the same image in 24-bit color and it's taken almost all of your RAM. Move to a 32-bit processor and you get 4GB of address space. With an MMU, that's 4GB per process, maybe some hackery like PAE so you get up to 64GB of physical RAM. What can you do with 4GB of address space? You're very unlikely to generate enough text to fill that up; even the whole of Project Gutenberg isn't much bigger than that, and you don't need all of it in RAM at once. Images? Not likely. High-end cameras use about 50MB per image and they're already past the point where the human eye can take in the whole image at once. Video maybe? DV footage is about 10GB/hour, but generally you don't map it all into your address space, you process it in a stream, so it's also not limited by a 32-bit address space.

      It would be a mistake to say a 32-bit address space is enough for anyone, just as it was a mistake to say 64KB is enough for anyone. That doesn't mean, however, that 64KB isn't enough for some people. 1MB is enough for a few more people. 4GB is enough for quite a lot of people. 16 Exabytes is probably enough for almost everyone. Note that most '64-bit' processors really only allow something like 48 bits of virtual address space and 40 bits of physical because no one - even the NSA - is using the whole 64-bit space.

      It's the same thing with processor speeds. Why do you think things like ARM and Atom chips, which are much slower than the top-of-the-line i7, POWER5, or whatever, are becoming so popular? Because, for a very large section of the market, a 1GHz P3 is fast enough for everything they do. A few months ago my 2.16GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro was in for repair, so I was using my old 1.5GHz G4 PowerBook instead. Most of the time, the CPU load on that machine was under 60%. The only difference with the faster machine is that now the average CPU load is closer to 10%. For some people 1MHz was fast enough. For more people 100MHz was fast enough. For a lot of people, 1GHz was fast enough. For some people, 100THz will still be too slow, but they are quite a small niche market (and SGI is very pleased that they are still willing to pay a large markup).

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ztransform (929641)

      8-bit processors to 32-bit risc monsters

      I think most desktops are now CISC [wikipedia.org] monsters.

      Asides from faster busses and dual processors and (finally) 64-bit addressing, how much further have we really come?

      Personally I've seen significant development in the last 10 years. Back 12 years ago, when I was at university studying electrical engineering, we were discussing the potential of radio modulation being done entirely in software - what a novel concept that was back then! When the i386 came out I was amazed at things like barrel shifters, and protected memory - protected memory, what a boon that was to multi-process operating systems! Then things got really compli

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by petermgreen (876956)

        now you'd be lucky to ever identify the value of a resister on a circuit board
        Well I could probablly lift it off the board with a set of heated tweezers, measure it and then solder it back on, annoying but certainly possible (at least down to 0603 package, probablly smaller).

        Also while there are 32 bit embedded processors the 8 bit and 16 bit ones are still availible and afaict are still selling well. For many applications a pic in a dil or soic package on a 2 layer board is plenty and for low volume stuff

    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      Things have been "slowing down" for a while, now. Back in '96 or so, tech mags were saying we were 5 years from crystal based, non-volatile storage. I remember a number of articles about it. Granted, they're always saying that, but consider how many storage advancements have actually been made since then: not many. We had SCSI and IDE, and we've refined our processes and improved the specs in a linear fashion, yes. But there's been no substantial storage advancement; it's all been linear.

      As far as processor

    • Even a lowly P4 2ghz isn't all that bad for just web surfing

      My hard-core, purpose built gaming rig runs a 1.6G P4 with 384M of RAM. And when I say purpose-built, I mean it. HAPP controls and joysticks, tornado spinners, a 30" Wells/Gardener monitor with LinCade [pc2jamma.org] running xmame, it is amazing what you can do with old hardware.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 16, 2009 @05:49PM (#29086801)

    Check out this disturbing CBC video short documentary on how these people dismantle computers in the most unhealthy way. Both to themselves and their environment.

    http://www.cbc.ca/national/blog/video/environmentscience/ewaste_dumping_ground.html [www.cbc.ca]

  • ASU not UofA (Score:4, Informative)

    by bbk (33798) on Sunday August 16, 2009 @06:12PM (#29086901) Homepage

    Arizona has two universities, the Tucson based University of Arizona (UofA), which has been around for much longer than the Tempe based Arizona State University (ASU). This article was written by people at latter, not the former, so the post attribution is incorrect.

  • I am glad that there's an 80% chance my old CueCat [wikipedia.org] is being put to good use in a third word country somewhere.

  • My 2 Cents (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sendro (1548069)
    I have seen the EOL recycling process first hand - I have been out to the warehouses and purchased networking & server equipment. It is great that we can recycle this stuff. The issue here is 88% of your "secure data" will end up back on the market exported to India. Do you trust these people with your data - every server I have purchased from these recycling companies has still had your valuable data on it. If you are a company sending your old IT stock to these places.. sure you have agreements to wi
    • by CAIMLAS (41445)

      Would not something as low-level format of the drive do the trick? And they do not even do this?

      I find that somewhat difficult to believe. I know the medical industry has strict requirements that such things be done; when I worked in health care, we destroyed all drives physically - it was good stress relief to take a stack out back and pound the piss out of them with a sledge from maintenance, too.

      I can't believe that, at least, financial companies do not have similar legal requirements. Please, someone te

      • by GiMP (10923)

        From software, the best solution is a multi-pass random rewrite. This isn't very practical and doesn't work with broken drives.

        The best methods of physical destruction are:
        1. Running it through a degausser, which can be expensive commercially, but not too difficult to build or scavenge from old CRTs.
        2. Throwing it into a blast furnace. This can be dangerous and bad for the environment, but at least you can re-use the iron! The heat will degauss the metal. If melted into a liquid, complete destruction is

  • FTFS:

    that most of the exports of used computers imported by buyers overseas (88%) are really for reuse and repair. Otherwise, people would not pay to import them.

    The above is simply silly. The scrap value of computer parts is high - very high in some cases. About a year ago they were especially in demand. PCBs are still in good demand: sometimes for recovery of soldered-on parts, but mostly for recovery of the copper and other valuable metals (gold-plated contacts for example).

    I am happy to hear that 88% is being reused before being recycled (mind that most poor countries have much higher recycling rates than developed countries because labour is so much cheap

  • (Forgive the randomness) I was in Lima for 6 weeks about a year ago, and the reuse/recycling of old computer equipment is absolutely true - especially old printers and copiers.

    Walking through the streets of Lima, even right around the Plaza de Armas but throughout the entire district, you can find dozens of shops that only sell used printers and copiers. They advertise them as new/refurbished from the U.S. and they seem to go for fairly decent prices. I'd never really seen such a sight before in my life -

  • The problem I see here, is exactly what was being suggested, by having more choice, you open up the door,
    and make more available to all, also doubling if not tripling the advertising per company added. Everybody wins, as now more and more 3rd world countries are trying to become digital, and move forward.

    Becoming digital first will allow every sector afterward to grow and expand quicker! If we give them access to the internet, and all the people working there, think how much more p0rn we can get them to dow

  • "Namely, that most of the exports of used computers imported by buyers overseas (88%) are really for reuse and repair. Otherwise, people would not pay to import them."

    That's bad logic. There was a good show (Modern Marvels?) that showed a business that paid for e-garbage and processed the (apparently quite large) amounts of precious metals such as gold from the circuits.

    That's a pretty good reason to pay to import, but also isn't re-using or repairing the electronics.

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