CU-Boulder works to keep computers out of the waste stream



The University of Colorado goes through a lot of computers.

Jack DeBell, recycling program development director at CU\’s Environmental Center, likes to joke that every new National Science Foundation grant given to the school comes standards with a line item for new computers.

But that has also made CU the perfect place for a couple of innovative programs that strive to keep computers out of the waste stream: Computers to Youth and an onsite dismantling system.

The Computers to Youth program works by \”upcycling\” still-functioning computers to low-income youth. The idea is to help those youth gain the valuable computer skills they need to academically succeed.

To get a computer, students work with CU mentors to bundle together computer components into a working machine that they then load the latest software onto.

\”This enables high school students to increase their chances of coming to universities like Colorado,\” DeBell said. \”We want to bridge the digital divide.\”

The program has been so successful, that CU\’s Environmental Center is now working to export the model to universities around the country, DeBell said.

But even computer parts that don\’t make it into the Computers to Youth program still get a chance at a second life at CU, reducing the amount of electronics that are discarded overall. That\’s because CU dismantles computers onsite — a rarity among universities or any large state agencies.

\”We pull the different components apart so when they go to the secondary recycler, they\’re handled in the most efficient way,\” said Shari Philpott, director of CU\’s Distribution Center.

Pulling the electronics apart also allows them to recombine working parts into functioning machines, Philpott said.

\”We rebuild computers on campus that then sometimes get re-deployed on campus,\” she said. \”And sometimes they get sold at auction.\”

But unlike other state auctions of electronics, Philpott said everything sold from CU is in working condition.

\”What goes to auction has been tested,\” she said. \”We sell it open source, with no software installed on it.\”