Mac Musings

One Used Mac Can Make a Difference

Daniel Knight - 2008.11.12 -

Dave at Newton Poetry has a great idea: Instead of stripping old Macs for raw materials, which is laudable, why not do all we can to make those old Macs useful again and give them to kids who don't otherwise have a computer at home.

He sees it as a run-around solution to part of the e-waste dilemma and calls it One Used Mac per Child. I'm a believer, and I'm asking the Low End Mac community to take the idea and run with it.

Dave's idea is to work with local electronics recyclers, asking them to give us the opportunity to try to restore old Macs to usefulness or salvage what parts we can for use in restoring other Macs before they are broken down for raw materials. I know we have a couple e-cyclers in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area, and I suspect they exist across the US and around the world.


I think a program like this needs to be done on a regional basis, and I can see this going way beyond supplying Macs to children without home computers. But first things first.

I've set up a Google Group, One Used Mac, where we can discuss things, link with others in whatever area we live, coordinate our efforts, and discuss the logistics of acquiring, refurbishing, and distributing these Macs. Here are my initial thoughts:

  1. Develop a local group, choose a leader, and divide up tasks - acquisition, restoration, distribution, training, etc.
  2. Contact electronic recyclers in your area and ask them to participate on One Used Mac per Child. We'll be looking for Macs, monitors, mice, keyboards, power cables, etc.
  3. Identify potential recipients: children with no home computer, schools with no computers for students to use, retirement communities, homeless shelters, etc. Get creative.
  4. Keep it cheap. If we're going to be giving these Macs away, use salvaged RAM and drives - even used PRAM batteries when possible. If we have to spend money on something, don't sell it at a profit.
  5. Develop a network for swapping parts.
  6. Possibly sell valuable components (original AirPort Cards, for example) to finance fresh PRAM batteries and blank media.
  7. Use freely available versions of the Mac OS (System 6.0.x and 7.5.x) or the version of the Mac OS that was originally installed to avoid copyright problems. If this takes off, we'll try to obtain permission from Apple to distribute some version of OS X, maybe 10.3.9.
  8. Install all available software updates.
  9. Work on lists of software that can be freely distributed with various versions of the Mac OS and various computers, especially browsers and email clients.
  10. Create master restore disks to simplify duplicating setup to future Macs.
  11. Supply a backup CD with the Mac OS and installed apps so the end user can recover from disaster.
  12. Collect old books and other tutorials that provide an introduction to the Mac, since many users may have little or no Mac experience.
  13. Look into Internet options - no cost or low cost dialup, no cost or low cost WiFi, etc.
  14. Have someone who can walk new users through the basics.

Not only will this help the environment and new users, it can also provide us with an opportunity to clear those old Macs out of our closets and get them back into use. And give us a reason to drive around the night before trash day looking for Macs next to the garbage (may not be legal in some areas).

A step up from this might be finding used Macs are yard sales and on Craigslist that we can tune up, refurbish, and resell for cost. (I recently did this for one of my nephews, who now has a 400 MHz indigo iMac.)

As I write this, I can already see chapters of One Used Mac developing all over the country and around the world. Won't you join us?

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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