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Getting computers out of the attic

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO, Colorado
Special to the DailyComputers that come into Guaranteed Recycling Xperts in Denver are broken down into their components, then recycled.
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EAGLE COUNTY ” A computer is kind of like a pet: Once you bring it home, you’re responsible for it. Think of Kevin Allen as the guy who helps put the old machines to sleep.

Allen, who started High Country Computer Services earlier this year, knows what it’s like to have old computers in the closet. He has a few himself. He also knows how tough it can be to get rid of old computers. And it didn’t take long for him to sense a demand for computer recycling in the valley.

“My third customer asked where he could go to get rid of his old computers,” Allen said. “Then almost all my customers asked about it.”

Allen did some research, and recently signed a deal to use GRX (Guaranteed Recycling Xperts) of Denver to dispose of old machines in line with the law and modern reality.

The legal angle is simple: It’s illegal for businesses to send computers and other electronic equipment to landfills.

There’s stuff inside computers, monitors and other electronic equipment that really shouldn’t be in landfills, from lead and mercury to plastic treated with fire-resistant chemicals.

Beyond the environmental impacts, many computers’ hard drives hold personal information that could be used for identity theft.

Allen and other consultants can erase hard drives. Allen uses a program used by the U.S. Department of Defense to erase its hard drives.

“It totally erases a disk,” Allen said. “It eliminates section marks and format marks, which are what computers use to read a disk.”

For those who demand more, GRX will put a hard drive through something Allen called “a paper shredder on steroids,” a machine that will completely tear up a hard drive.

“It would be a chore to get anything off one of those,” Allen said.

For legal and peace of mind purposes, GRX will provide businesses or individuals a certificate that their computers had been legally disposed of.

And the company treats old computers like Plains Indians treated buffalo. Not much goes to waste.

GRX claims that 95 percent of its material is recycled. These days, that means the company keeps a lot of stuff out of the landfill.

“We process about 500,000 pounds a month,” GRX Director of Sales Matt McLaughlin said. “Three years ago we were doing between 25,000 and 30,000 pounds a month.”

The process is extensive. Machines that come into GRX’s building near downtown Denver are never plugged in. When they arrive, a crew of employees starts breaking down machines. Metal frames go into one bin, glass and plastic into others. Circuit boards are sent to Belgium to be recycled.

The hardest part, Allen said, is the glass from old monitors and TVs, which contain leaded glass. With current technology, those screens can end up as either recycled glass or new lead, but can’t be separated to create both.

Equally as difficult is if there’s any wood in TVs. That wood has almost always been treated with hazardous chemicals, which can’t be burned or recycled. Much of that ends up headed toward the landfill.

GRX’s business is growing all the time, and McLaughlin said the company is profitable, but there’s a long way to go before even most computer owners accept “cradle to grave” responsibility for the equipment they buy.

“I read an estimate that with electronic equipment in general, only 15 percent gets recycled,” Allen said. “The balance gets put in attics or put in landfills.”

So Allen is doing his part, and will take in old computers. When he gets enough to fill up his Toyota pickup, he’ll load it up and head to Denver.

“I’m headed that way fairly often anyway,” he said, adding that he hopes to make enough from his deal with GRX to cover his costs.

“My role is to give Eagle County residents an avenue to properly dispose of these things.”

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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