The life of the University’s old tech

The University sends its old computers to a company that resells or recycles the technology, creating nearly 300,000 pounds of recycled material.

Violet Chang, left, has office hours with one of her students, Yifan Jing, at Keller Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 13. Chang is a computer science undergraduate student who teaches three courses.

Image by Tony Saunders

Violet Chang, left, has office hours with one of her students, Yifan Jing, at Keller Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 13. Chang is a computer science undergraduate student who teaches three courses.

by Dylan Anderson

The University of Minnesota outsources disposal of its old technology, recycling over a quarter million pounds of material in a year — but some wish they could buy retired computers from the college.

In October, the University renewed a service agreement with Dynamic Lifecycle Innovations to handle the disposal and reselling of computers and technology. The University previously facilitated most of the resale and donation of its own computers but changed due to cost and labor concerns. 

Nearly 6,500 University computers were recycled or resold in a 14-month period dating back to January 2018. This cost the University a net total of approximately $53,000, or about $8 per computer, according to the Office of Information Technology.

Dynamic resold about 27 percent of the computers they received from the five system campuses between January 2018 and February 2019. Otherwise, computers are physically disassembled, recycled and sold as raw material. 

Each of the system’s more than 28,000 computers has a life cycle of about four to five years, depending on the usage. OIT then evaluates whether the computer could be used elsewhere on campus. If not, and the equipment’s service warranty is expired or it shows technical problems, it is sent to Dynamic.

“We have a planful approach, so we use it for its full life,” said Paul Honsey, a senior manager in OIT. “But we don’t want to have downtime either. If we wait till it dies … then we end up having multiple computer swaps for someone, which is also pretty expensive.”

Mike Olson, University Services computer tech, said many students have requested purchasing the units. The University sold refurbished computers as recently as 2013, but Honsey said it wasn’t cost-effective due to software licensing and support concerns from purchasers.

“Support for that old equipment kind of dries up. So unless you are kind of techy, [if] something goes wrong, it is very hard to service,” Mike Olson said.

The University first signed an agreement with Dynamic in 2013 that gives the college a kickback for the computers resold and materials recycled. In the 14-month period after January 2018, the net total for each month varied from a cost of over $11,000 to a credit of about $4,400.

The University still occasionally donates computers through the Office of Business and Community Economic Development in the Office for Equity and Diversity, but Honsey said they do not solicit donations.

John Butler, associate University librarian for data and technology, said University Libraries used to donate computers, but stopped at least six years ago.

“Some organizations say, ‘Yeah, we want your computers,’ but may not fully appreciate the effort it takes to install them into the network, secure them, maintain them and so forth,” he said.

Jeremy Olson, corporate services director for Dynamic, said Dynamic recycled about 291,000 pounds of material from the University last year. This includes many devices such as hard drives, monitors and keyboards, among others.

He said Dynamic is one of less than five recyclers nationwide that process electronics to the “highest level of standards.”

“From plastic, to copper, to aluminum, to steel, to precious metals, you name it,” Jeremy Olson said. “None of it goes into landfills.”