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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 October, 2004, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
New life for old computers

by Gareth Jones
BBC Wales business correspondent

What do we do with our old computers when we have no further use for them?

These days when they become quickly obsolete, this is an important question because legally we can't dump them in landfill sites and a new European Directive called WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) will make the problem worse because they have to be recycled safely now.

Computers for recycling
The computers can be re-sold for as little as 40

So one option is to donate our surplus computers to a charity that will recycle them.

This week, the managing director of Microsoft UK, Alastair Baker, was in Cardiff visiting Wales' leading computer recycling charity, Computers in the Community (CITC).

Operating in a unit on an anonymous-looking industrial estate, CITC refurbishes around 75 computers a month.

They are sold to people who cannot afford a brand new one.

For as little as 40 someone can buy a computer that only a few years ago might have cost 20 times that.

Alastair Baker looks after the UK for one of the world's biggest multinational corporations.

Currently around 90% of the world's desktop computers are running on Microsoft's systems.

The company is donating cash and software to CITC through its community learning awards and Mr Baker was here to meet some of the volunteers.

Computers in the Community has a strong educational mission.

Alistair Baker with volunteer
Alistair Baker (left) said he was impressed with the operation

Many of its 20 unpaid volunteers come from very difficult backgrounds.

Mark, 28, from Heath, Cardiff, has been off work for a year with depression.

As part of a programme to give him the confidence to get back into the world of work, he is here refurbishing computers.

Amid huge piles of old PCs, he and the others are bringing them back to life by wiping them clean of their previous owner's information and reinstalling new software operating systems.

"The hardest part is getting compatibility between all the different bits of the PC. For example, does the new graphics software work with the old graphics card?" Mark says.

"But we have engineers here who can help. I am learning so much and I'm helping others by giving them cheap computers. Helping them to get on the 'IT wave"'.

With the knowledge he is gaining, Mark hopes to get himself some qualifications and then a job working with computers.

Mr Baker was impressed by what he had seen.

He said CITC was helping to bridge "the digital divide" by making computers available to people who otherwise could not afford one.

Re-conditioning a computer
The volunteers clear the computers of their former content
"Also, the working environment here is superb. It is giving people the skills they need to get a job later on. I'm delighted to be supporting them," he added.

The charity's chief executive, Georgina Ashmore, said: "We've saved 6,000 old PCs from landfill in eight years and donated 4,000.

"And we are planning a big expansion in the numbers we recycle and in providing recognised qualifications for our volunteers."

The old computers are usually donated by companies and organisations, saving them the problem of how to get rid of them.

But CITC's expansion plans may be hindered by a shortage of second-hand computers.

Many computers are now being shipped abroad to be scrapped or cannibalised.

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