10 Ways to Repurpose That Old Computer

edited August 2023 in Green

Have you ever thought about the environmental impact of your old electronic devices? From computers to TVs to phones, e-waste significantly contributes to pollution worldwide. The average person in the US generates more than 21 kg of e-waste per year, but only 15% of it is recycled. If we want to save the planet, we must find ways to repurpose or responsibly dispose of our old technology.

E-waste is a global problem with severe environmental consequences. These discarded electronics contain valuable materials like gold, copper, and nickel that can be recycled and reused. However, e-waste also contains hazardous substances such as mercury, lead, and brominated flame retardants, which require safe disposal. Recycling e-waste helps to protect the environment and keep these valuable and dangerous materials from going into the ground and waterways.

So, how can you repurpose your old computer? 

The obvious way is to sell it on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, or have a yard sale. But instead of doing something so mundane as making money out of your old stuff, maybe you can have some fun - just don't forget to wipe the hard drive beforehand!

1) Give it away to a stranger.  

It may sound cheesy, but the gift of giving is real. While helping someone in need, you help yourself with a feel-good boost to your mental health. 

  • Contact a local school or church to see if they can advise you on donating your computer with the aim of zero landfill in your area. 
  • Check out the Buy Nothing Project.org to find a local community you can donate to. 
  • If your computer is less than 6 years old, contact Computers with Causes.org to learn how they take your old device and set it up to help others.  
  • Freecycle.org is another organization with communities throughout the USA that will help you to help not only other people but also the planet by reducing landfill.

Giving sounds like a win for everyone!

2) Give it away to someone you know 

If you have an old PC that you no longer need or want, one option is to give it to someone you know who can use it - a friend, family member, or even a colleague. By passing on your old devices, you can help someone else avoid the need to buy a new one, which can save them money and reduce the demand for new electronic products. Additionally, by giving your old devices to someone you know, you can be sure they will be used and appreciated rather than ending up in a landfill. Remember: 

  • Most people just want to search the internet, connect with social media and use email or look at their photos.  
  • Because these people are not active web designers or video editors, the computer doesn't have to be a complicated system with expensive software. On the other hand, ensuring the machine has wi-fi capability will be helpful.  
  • All you need to do is to wipe your data and install essential software. Voila! You have solved both of your problems.

3) Help the world!  

Keep your computer running at home but donate the computer's processing power to Science United.org.  

  • Science United runs scientific research projects in astronomy, physics, biomedicine, mathematics, and environmental science.  
  • This platform, operated by the BOINC project at UC Berkeley, allows you to choose which areas you'd like to support.  
  • You only need an internet connection and power outlet, with occasional monitor usage. 
  • BOINC is secure and won't interfere with your regular computer use, so you can also use it for other things.  
  • The program is non-profit, so you can feel good about supporting a worthwhile cause while helping to advance scientific knowledge.

4) Turn your computer into art 

One way to repurpose an old computer is to turn it into a piece of art. Depending on your interests and skills, this could range from turning your old computer into a digital photo frame, where you can watch snaps from the past loom onto a full-sized monitor, to turning your device into a sculpture.

Experiment to amuse and amaze yourself! Pull it to pieces and sculpt with the parts, or set them into a frame, acrylic glass, or resin to make artwork or jewelry. Search YouTube or Pinterest for inspiration.

5) Mount your computer 

Mount your old computer on the wall to combine art with a working computer.

  • Tech Guided has some stunning examples of what clever people have put together and 
  • Tech Radar tells you how you can do it.  
  • Remember, you might need help with this effort, and if it doesn't work out as hoped, you have already decided this computer is no longer wanted.

6) Turn your old computer into a media center 

If you have an old computer collecting dust, why not turn it into a media center? A media center is the perfect way to organize and access your favorite digital content, including music, movies, and TV shows. And the best part? There are several ways to set one up using an old computer. Whether you install media center software, connect it to your TV or home theater system, or use it as a network-attached storage device, your old computer can become the ultimate hub for all your entertainment needs.

  • Install media center software such as Plex or Kodi so that you can watch or listen to what you want when you want, and even where you want - both Plex and Kodi store your data, so it's available anytime., anywhere.  
  • Both will run on various platforms, but Kodi has a more extensive community base, which might be more helpful if your computer is a little older than most.

So go and breathe new life into that old computer – your media center awaits!

7) Turn your old laptop into a Chromebook 

You will need to install the Chrome Flex operating system (OS) which runs well on even old hardware. Here are the general steps to do this:

  • Make sure your laptop meets the system requirements for running ChromeOS Flex. Google has a certified list of specific computer models it's been tested on. 
  • Download the ChromeOS Flex installation 
  • Create a bootable installation media using the downloaded file and a blank USB drive or SD card. 
  • Restart your laptop and enter the boot menu to boot from the installation media. 
  • Follow the on-screen instructions to install the Chrome OS on your laptop. 
  • Once the installation is complete, set up your laptop like a new Chromebook.

Remember that this process will erase any existing data on your laptop, so back up any important files before starting.

8) Sandboxing, anyone?  

Did you always want to click on that pop-up but know you shouldn't? Having a computer that isn't mission critical, isn't connected to your primary device, and has been wiped clean of all personal data, means you have a blank slate to download or create anything you want: essentially a 'sandbox.' You could use it to: 

  • Create and test code to see what it does. 
  • Download software or apps to see what they do. 
  • If something goes wrong with web development, you can try out options in your sandbox to learn how to avoid similar issues in the future. 
  • Learn about cybersecurity and how viruses or malware can affect your data 
  • Remember to store Windows recovery on a USB if you need to reinstall it.

9) Home security 

Another idea for repurposing an old computer is to use it for home security. There are a few different ways you could do this:

  1. Set up a security camera system. You can use an old computer as a network video recorder (NVR) to store and manage video footage from security cameras around your home.  
  2. Use the computer to control smart home devices. Many smart home devices, such as security cameras, door locks, and thermostats, can be controlled and monitored through a smartphone app or web interface. By setting up an old computer as a hub for your smart home devices, you can easily monitor and control them from a single location. 
  3. Use the computer as an alarm system. Various software programs allow you to set up an alarm system using an old computer. You can use sensors or cameras to monitor your home for any unusual activity and set up alerts to notify you if something is detected. 
  4. Follow these instructions from Techs Motion to have a go at DIY.

By repurposing an old computer for home security, you can add an extra layer of protection to your home and keep an eye on things even when you're away.

10) Refurbish 

What about keeping the computer case – assuming it is big enough - and refurbishing the bits that make it work?  

  • Adding more RAM is a great way to improve its performance. 
  • Upgrading the processor (CPU) could boost your computer's speed.  
  • If you run out of space on your hard drive, upgrading to a larger capacity drive or adding an extra drive could give you plenty of room to store all your files and media. 
  • And if you're a gamer or love having top-notch visuals, upgrading the graphics card (also known as the GPU) could take your graphics to the next level.  
  • Just be sure to check that your power supply can handle all the new components you're adding!

Whatever you choose when considering how to deal with that old computer, don't throw it in the trash. Most of the dangerous metals will eventually pollute waterways or soil. Instead, find a way for it to have another life in another way.

If recycling is the way to go, then remember that computer manufacturers usually have recycling facilities. Here's how to recycle your Acer products in the USA.

Robert is a Taiwan-based writer and digital marketer at iamrobert design. He has a passion for helping people simplify their lives through tech.



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