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Born Again

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What happens to computer equipment that businesses have replaced or machines that have simply seen better days? Often, the equipment ends up collecting dust in the corner, of little use to anyone. Worse, it winds up in some landfill, where metal, plastic and other toxic materials find their way into our already polluted environment.

Sometimes, however, unwanted computers also find their way to the Marin Computer Resource Center (MCRC) in San Rafael, California. The nonprofit organization, started in June 1994, rescues PCs, Macintoshes, printers and other computer components from early retirement, repairs them if necessary, and then puts them in the hands of the needy.

Recipients, which include public schools, libraries and homeless shelters nationwide, as well as orphanages, hospitals and worldwide organizations as far away as Moscow and Gambia, have found unique ways to put the old equipment to good use. "Obsolescence is a relative term," says James Burgett, MCRC's executive director. "If you don't have any processing capabilities, anything is a quantum leap."

After the high-tech hand-me-downs come in, a staff of interns handles everything from light repairs to complete refurbishing of most computer components. And if something can't be fixed, it doesn't land in the junkyard: It's broken down into its basic elements--plastic, metal and so on--and recycled.

So far, the MCRC has shipped more than 3,000 fully operable computers to happy customers on every continent. Still, Burgett has much bigger plans: He hopes to open another Bay Area center and begin expanding into Europe and Asia as well. If you have equipment you'd like to donate, call (415) 454-4227.

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This article was originally published in the May 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Born Again.

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