Scitech  Reboot, refurb, recycle

How a McGill student group gives old hardware a second life – and why you should care

It could soon be possible to pick up a desktop computer for a mere $30, thanks to a project called Reboot McGill.  Operating out of what once was a storage room in Ferrier Engineering Building, Reboot is a student-led effort to increase sustainability on campus, as well as to improve access to technology.

Reboot works in cooperation with the McGill Office of Sustainability and McGill Waste Management to collect spare and damaged computers from all over campus.  Each gadget then undergoes hardware testing and an operating system overhaul, as well as a hard drive wipe.   Missing or damaged parts are replaced, and the final product is a fully refurbished computer.

Anyone who has ever seen the inside of a computer knows that electronics repair can be tricky – so the most surprising aspect of the program may be its integration of inexperienced volunteers.  Students from all faculties drop by to help during Reboot’s office hours, where their shared interest (or just newfound curiosity) in computers is put to use testing mother boards or installing freeware like Linux based Ubuntu. The group can easily refurbish twenty computers in a week, and high stacks of CPUs take up most of the small Reboot office’s floor space.

The group could turn a profit from selling the desktops, but prefer instead to donate them to various Montreal non-profits (The Yellow Door was a recent recipient). Anyone can request a computer from Reboot, though priority is given to charities, schools, and McGill affiliated groups.  Starting next week, they also hope to sell surplus desktops to students for personal use at highly discounted rates.

Where would these computers go if Reboot didn’t exist? Most other cities have similar donations based refurbishment programs that are often run privately. According to Reboot, however, nothing comparable exists in Montreal just yet. The most probable fate for these devices would have been recycling or disposal, or storage in a dark and dusty McGill corner – even if they were in working condition. Reboot provides these computers with new homes, and also mandates that recipients return the hardware to Waste Management when it’s time for their disposal, ensuring the technology is used in full and ultimately recycled correctly.

The cooperation between Reboot and McGill Waste Management may be just what the electronics recycling initiative needs. Working together, they now provide a one-stop shop for all e-recycling. Once handed off to the co-op, individuals can be certain that their electronics will be refurbished or recycled appropriately. It is precisely this sort of unification that promises to solve the current woes of electronics recycling.  It is not for lack of options that most electronics are improperly recycled, but, rather, due to the confusion associated with too many choices.  Apple and Best Buy are examples of private companies that offer recycling programs, but both have restrictions on what they will and will not accept, and both have associated fees. Many smaller companies offer recycling, but only for specific types of electronics. Now, McGill staff and students have a simple and straightforward way to reuse and recycle.