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These articles were prepared for the
December 11, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
A Final Home For Dinosaur PCs
New Jersey is first again. As of Tuesday, December 17,
the toughest computer disposal regulations in the country go into
effect in the Garden State. Any disposal of more than 100 kilograms
— about eight monitors or CPUs — must follow these new
or the company doing the dumping is subject to a $2,000 fine. Old
computers must be taken to an NJDEP-approved facility, and records
of the disposal must be retained for three years.
Tens of millions of old computers are languishing in corporate
and in closets in small companies. The useful life of a computer is
only three-to-five years, and a number of machines crash well before
they turn two. Computer manufacturers, with sales stuck in neutral
for the past two years, are perking up now that the number of
machines is soaring. In 2005, more than 63 million PCs are projected
to be retired according to a recent study by the National Safety
Green advocates point out that the 94 percent of old computers that
are sent to landfills represent an awful waste, and urge recycling.
In a ton of electronic boards there are 600 pounds of plastic, 286
pounds of copper, 90 pounds of iron, 40 pounds of nickel, and a pound
each of silver and gold. More ominously, there are substantial amounts
of hazardous materials, including lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium,
and environmentally-dangerous flame retardants.
Yet, it can be hard to get rid of computers at all, let alone to do
so in an environmentally sound manner. One challenge, especially for
small businesses, is psychological. It’s hard to throw away something
for which you paid $2,000 or $3,000 just a couple of years ago. Such
horrifyingly fast obsolescence is upsetting. Better to just slip the
pre-Pentium machines and 15-inch black and white monitors into a
with the thought of perhaps using them one day for spare parts or
for the use of a summer temp.
Another hurdle is the fear that someone with a lot of time on his
hands and a techno/blackmail bent will fish the machines out of the
garbage, steal secrets from hard drives, and use or sell software.
To ensure that this will not happen, hard drives need to be wiped
clean before disposal and software licenses should be transferred
to new machines.
Even after computers are stripped and all sentimental attachment
in the face of overflowing discard closets, disposal is still not
easy. But there are options. Newer computers and monitors may find
buyers on an online auction such as Ebay. Another option that will
bring in a few bucks is trading old computers in for new. Major
including IBM, Gateway, and Dell, may extend a small trade-in
An appealing idea, especially at this time of the year, when altruism
and tax deductions are on many minds, is to donate the old machines.
A computer the office techno geeks spurn could mean the world to a
poor student or to a displaced homemaker trying to develop job skills.
Share the Technology Computer Recycling Project is an effort by a
Rancocas-based non-profit (www.sharetechnology.org). It matches
those who need computers with those who have computers to donate.
Both sides can easily post requests and offers on the website.
donations include Macintosh Power PCs or better, Pentium level PCs
or better, working color monitors without screen burn or other damage,
inkjet and laser printers, scanners, modems, keyboards, mice, and
software, but only the original disks.
Another donation option is the Trenton Materials Exchange
which accepts computers of every age and condition at its warehouse,
at 800 New York Avenue in Trenton, on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or by appointment
The Trenton Materials Exchange cleans the hard drives of stray files
and passes usable machines along to non-profits. It charges $5 for
each computer monitor to assist with lead and glass disposal fees,
but does not charge to accept terminals, typewriters, modems, cables,
answering machines, projectors, VCRs, or telephones. This is also
a place to dispose of old office furniture, and a good source —
even for the for-profit firms — of very low cost office essentials
ranging from electronics to supplies to desks.
Office computers that are clearly past their prime need
to be recycled. A number of companies specialize in picking up and
recycling computers. Those licensed to do so provide disposal records.
One company that has been doing this work for a number of years is
Back Thru the Future Micro Computers (www.backthruthefuture.com) in
Ogdensburg in northern New Jersey. Its extensive website provides
voluminous information on electronics recycling and links to other
recycling resources. The company also sells refurbished computers
and computer equipment at low prices.
Other New Jersey computer recycling companies include Supreme Computer
Wholesalers in Lakewood (732-370-4100). The New Jersey Department
of Environmental Protection’s website (www.state.nj.us/dep) includes
a complete list of facilities participating in a pilot project to
de-manufacture consumer electronics. They include NewTech Recycling
in Bridgewater (732-469-9774), HessTech in Edison (732-287-2442),
and Public Service Electric and Gas in Gibbstown (856-224-1637). It
also lists facilities that have approval to operate as recycling
These include Sterling Computer Recycling in Bridgewater
Recycle America in Long Branch (732-870-2395), Service Partners in
Landing (973-770-4949), and Onyx Environmental Services in Flanders
A good source of recycling information for consumers and businesses
alike is the New Jersey Solid Waste Policy Group at Rutgers
Extension (aesop.rutgers.edu/~wastemgmt/main). It lists
facilities by county and provides extensive details on hours.
Computer recycling is serious business, but a site that
makes one aspect of it almost seem like fun is FundingFactory
This Erie, Pennsylvania, for-profit makes disposing of printer
easy and lets companies feel good about recycling them. Register and
FundingFactory sends out boxes with pre-paid UPS stickers attached.
Just fill the boxes with cartridges and give them to a UPS driver.
Each shipment earns points, which can be given to a school the company
chooses. Schools redeem the points for computers, computer
and software. The site lists the point value for each type of
along with the points needed to redeem any particular piece of
Appealing to the green side of business, FundingFactory’s website
tells visitors that half a gallon of oil is conserved for every laser
cartridge returned, and that each year 300 million cartridges are
thrown away, a number equal in weight to 30,500 elephants.
The slick website even has a fast-moving counter documenting how many
cartridges are thrown away in the U.S. since each visitor logged onto
its homepage. It is at least mildly diverting to watch how quickly
the number mounts up.
For some reason, FundingFactory does not want to release a complete
list of New Jersey schools enrolled in its program. A company
did, however, divulge that 20 schools in or very near the 08540 zip
code (Princeton Township and parts of West Windsor) participate, and
that "hundreds" more New Jersey schools are in the program.
Upon registering, new FundingFactory users are presented with a list
of schools in their zip code and can choose the one to which they
want to donate their points. If a favorite school is not yet
users can bank their points.
FundingFactory just started accepting used cell phones, and awards
points for them too. The company says that 30 million cell phones
were retired in 2001 — a fact one would never intuit by visiting
any area shopping mall or restaurant, strolling any street or riding
Nevertheless, outmoded phones apparently are stacking up nearly as
fast as computers without CD drives, boxy computer monitors, and slow
printers. Drag them all out of the store room, the office coat closet,
and the junk drawer. Given the new consequences, now is the time to
Situating an accountant’s desk so that he spends his
days looking out a window is just plain sadistic. This according to
Jeanette Schwartz, Feng Shui practitioner and owner of South
Brunswick-based Creative Concepts. She spends about half of her time
consulting with corporate clients on how to design offices that
employees’ physical and mental health and ratchet up productivity
as well. A deskbound accountant pining for the out-of-doors is very
possibly not a happy accountant, or a productive one either, in her
opinion. If he must have a window, she suggests, make sure it is not
one that affords a spectacular view.
Schwartz speaks on "The Art of Space Clearing: Cleansing and
Your Space" on Wednesday, December 18, at 7 p.m. at a Feng Shui
workshop at the South Brunswick Public Library in Monmouth Junction.
Cost: $8. Call 732-329-4000, ext. 286.
Schwartz lived in Queens until the age of 11 at which time her
German immigrants, decided they wanted to live in a more natural
The family moved to Oppenheim, a small town in New York State’s
mountains, where her father, a textile designer, consulted to the
many mills that were then in the area and her mother began a practice
as an herbalist.
"My parents were my greatest influence," says Schwartz. Not
only did they teach her to be in tune with her surroundings, but they
spoke both German and French at home, giving her a language base that
she found helpful after graduating from F.I.T. with a degree in
design and completing two years at New York University in
studies. She spent some 10 years working for home furnishing companies
in design and marketing, frequently traveling to Frankfurt and Paris.
She began her own design business more than 10 years ago, and tilted
it toward Feng Shui, which, she explains, involves not magic and
but rather physics. In addition to working on the design of corporate
offices, she sets up gardens, consults with homeowners, and also does
trend forecasting for retailers and manufacturers.
Predicting trends is not all that difficult, she says, explaining
that "history repeats itself, a decade comes back every 20 years
or so." Styles and colors from the ’80s are big now, she says,
but style also is being influenced by an air of uncertainty. As a
result, colors are subdued and golds and silvers are used only in
small doses. With war looming and security concerns at highs not seen
since debates over fall-out shelter were big (Do you allow neighbors
to share your store of canned foods?), she finds a focus on nesting
and a surge in the popularity of uniform-motif clothing.
Back in the office, Schwartz is finding executives cautiously
on the idea of using Feng Shui to boost health, morale, and
— as long as they are assured that tinkling bells and Far East
icons are not essential to the scheme. Here are some of the ways in
which Feng Shui can work at work.
especially discounters, like to move their customers counter
says Schwartz. This side of the Equator, humans naturally prefer to
move clockwise, and programming them to go the other way makes them
less efficient shoppers. Less efficient shoppers are what retailers
are after, for they tend to buy more.
Employers, however, do not benefit from wasted movement, and would
do well, says Schwartz, to set up their offices so that the flow of
tasks goes clockwise.
devices give off emissions that are harmful, says Schwartz, pointing
out that two office staples — computer monitors and fluorescent
lights — are big offenders. Natural light is preferable whenever
possible. Desk lamps are good substitutes for overhead fluorescents
If none of this is possible, employees can protect themselves to some
degree by turning off the computer when it is not in use, and by
frequent breaks to go outside and stand in the grass, "barefoot
if possible," says Schwartz.
office practice, is also one of the most easily remedied. "Do
not sit with your back to the door," says Schwartz. Cube dwellers
may not even realize it, but when they are typing away and someone
comes up behind them, they experience a "fight or flight"
response. We may have 108 channels on our televisions and cross oceans
with little thought, but at our cores, the instincts of primitive
Adrenalin starts to pump whenever anyone approaches, unseen, from
behind. So, says Schwartz, employees should face out, or at least
be positioned sideways, with an eye toward their doors. When this
is not possible, she suggests affixing a mirror to the wall in front
of each employee so that he can see who is approaching from the rear.
Employers and workers alike have told her that this one little step
makes a huge difference.
are programmed to respond to scent. Aromatherapy can create powerful
changes at work. If someone is prickly, difficult to work with,
placing an atomizer full of a soothing scent such as lavender, or
perhaps vanilla, near his desk. To energize the troops, go for citrus
study demonstrated that even the blind are sensitive to color. In
the study, she says, one group of blind youngsters was put into a
red room, while another group was put into a blue room. Researchers
found that after a time in the red room, the youngsters’ blood
This heightened response might be just what an employer wants,
in areas where creative thinking is important. Blues and greens could
be used where employees need to work quietly. Schwartz is not a big
fan of the beige and pale grey many employers tend to favor. She
that by ignoring color they are missing out on an important way to
achieve peak productivity.
of couples lounging under palm trees, looking out over a turquoise
sea. Shred those posters of skiers schussing through powder, framed
by gorgeous pines and backlit by the sun. This sort of art only makes
employees yearn to be at the beach, on the slopes, anywhere but in
their cubicles. Schwartz favors those inspirational posters instead.
If employees can’t stomach that rah-rah stuff, she says another good
idea is to spread the company name around, perhaps paired with
clients, and achievement awards. The idea is to keep everyone’s mind
desks should reflect ongoing work. That doesn’t mean the family needs
to be banished, though. Schwartz suggests placing a smallish family
photo, or a little collection, in the right hand corner of the desk.
(In Feng Shui philosophy, right hand spaces are for love and family.)
Don’t paper the walls with the baby’s latest photos, she says, or
all you will be able to think about is getting home to him.
as possible. They clean the air and lift the spirits. Good choices
for the office, says Schwartz, are unkillable specimens such as spider
plants or bamboo.
putting Post-it reminders of upcoming meetings, project deadlines,
and clients’ phone numbers all over the place is a good way to keep
on top of things. Not so, says Schwartz, calling the little rectangles
a huge distraction. "Keep one list to the left of that desk.
it," she says. Visual clutter saps energy, creates confusion,
and diffuses effort.
an interesting phenomenon. "At about age 39 or 40," she says,
"people fall in love with electronics." Many buy more than
they can use. The result can be frustration. "You get a PDA,"
she says, "but you can only figure out how to work two of its
functions. Then, every time you pick it up, you think `I really should
find the manual and spend an hour with it.’" No one ever follows
through, and many people suffer so much guilt and frustration at being
unable to get the most of the thing that it ends up doing more harm
look it over on the way back from the office mail cubby, and throw
away the junk on the way back to the desk. Useful items should be
acted on, or put in their proper places, right away. When there is
any indecision about whether it will be necessary to refer to a memo,
adopt a two-day rule. If you don’t need it within two days, throw
news clippings, letters, and print-outs for each project should be
filed in clearly marked folders. If they are not needed for six to
nine months, toss them. Nothing drains energy and gums up work faster
than a growing pile of miscellaneous papers, unless it is multiple
piles of miscellaneous papers, old trade journals, and year-old
Just seeing the mess triggers an urge to run away, not to get down
hunt-the-scissors? This popular office pastime, along with who’s seen
the tape? and where did my pens go? cuts into productivity big time.
By the time basic supplies are found, the hunter is frustrated,
and way out of focus. Put all the essentials into clear plastic
says Schwartz. Not only will they be easy to spot, but the
scheme just might deter marauding co-workers.
employees inherit hand-me-down desks and chairs, says Schwartz. Yet,
she says, if you seat a worker in a chair that does not fit, you
much guarantee yourself an unproductive worker.
are they offensively New Agey. The basic idea is to make that poor
windowless accountant so efficient that he will not have to spend
his days dreaming of the outdoors, but will actually be done early
enough to get there.
For some companies, the holiday party is an unvarying
tradition, held in the same place, using the same format, for the
same group every year. Other companies — including a good many
small companies — use a more seat-of-the-pants approach. We’re
guessing some of these companies are still holding discussions on
venue, invitees (clients? spouses? children?), theme, date, and style.
Here are some last minute suggestions from Alison Donald and
Kate Kaeli, the principals of the Princeton event planning company
KMA, which organized last year’s Communiversity festival in downtown
office may seem cost-effective, it will be tough for employees to
get in the holiday spirit when computers and piles of work surround
them. Instead, move your party to another, more festive location.
In addition to banquet halls, hotels, and restaurants, consider
wineries, theaters, art galleries, or ice rinks.
invited to the holiday party. If the event is scheduled for afternoon,
it’s understandable if it’s an employee only affair. However, if it’s
an evening event, allowing your staff to bring a spouse or guest could
be a good idea. A weekend brunch may be the perfect setting if you
are planning a family event that includes children. Whichever you
choose, be sure to word it clearly on the invitation to avoid any
potentially uncomfortable situation.
and fun activities into your plans for a more memorable event. Whether
it’s a scavenger hunt or gift exchange, always have a game or activity
to keep the party going. If your event is a family affair, be sure
to plan activities for the youngest guests.
not to serve alcohol at your holiday party, consider your company
policy as well as the time of day and guest list. If you do choose
to serve alcoholic beverages, make sure your caterer has a liquor
license, liability insurance, and a staff trained in alcohol
Depending on the circumstances, you may also want to set up a
driver car pool or book rooms at a hotel.
Corrections or additions?
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