Whichever the case, you shouldn't throw your old technology products into the trash. I won't fill this column up with a long diatribe about electronic waste: suffice it to say that it can be toxic. And if you decide to recycle, make sure you're dealing with an organization the does so responsibly.
On its Web site, Greencitizen.com says that "80 percent of U.S. electronic waste collected for 'recycling' is dumped in Asia and Africa."
A good recycling company will make sure that the waste is properly processed with safe disposal of all toxic materials. At www.Computertakeback.com there's a list of responsible recyclers broken down by state. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, at svtc.etoxics.org, has plenty of additional information on its Web site.
Another option sometimes is to send the tech item back to where it came from. Some companies offer their own recycling program for their equipment. In California, all cell phone companies are required to take back old phones. In some cases, they are given to domestic violence victims or others for whom your old phone could become a lifeline. If you're buying a new PC or Mac and want to recycle your old one, check the manufacturer's Web site to see what they can do to help. Apple will take back iPods at any of its retail stores, and will send you a coupon for free recycling of any brand PC if you buy a new Mac. Dell provides free recycling for any Dell-branded product. The easiest way to find out what your manufacturer offers is to type its name along with "+ recycling" into a search engine.
The end of the year is when a lot of people give old equipment to a non-profit to get a write-off of the fair market value. This is indeed a noble idea but don't just drop off that old PC on the doorstep of your nearby church, school or non-profit organization. Equipment that might be obsolete for you might also be obsolete for that organization.
The National Christina Foundation is an organization that matches donors to worthwhile charities while maintaining minimum standards. . For example, for Windows PCs, they insist on a Pentium III or higher CPU. They say that "hardware needing repair is considered on a case-by-case basis where partner organizations have repair capabilities." CompuMentor, a San Francisco-based organization that provides technology support and advice for non-profits, advises that "Any equipment that is not working or is more than five years old should be tagged for recycling." In other words, they don't want it. The group also reminds donors to be sure to include accessories such as keyboard and mouse -- "most organizations only accept complete systems."
If you're thinking of donating to a specific organization, make sure you talk with its staff or volunteers first to make sure the computer is needed.
Also, if you donate or sell a computer, be sure to completely erase all your data using disk cleaning software such as DataEraser or DiskEraser. Using the operating system's delete doesn't completely destroy your data - it can be recovered and used against you. You can find several of these products by searching for "disk eraser" at download.com.
Of course, you can always try to sell your old equipment. But you have to ask yourself whether it's worth the hassle.
Another option is to hand it down to a friend or family member. My son took our old 36-inch Sony TV to his apartment at UCLA. I was glad to get it out of the house and he and his roommates are happy to have a relatively nice TV. They'd be even happier if I were to give them a brand-new high-definition TV but I'm Dad, not Santa.
A syndicated technology columnist for over two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."