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Recycling Spreads to Information Technology

August 19, 1997

These junked computers are headed back to consumers. (Photo: Kyodo)

Recycling, a means of lessening the environmental burden caused by human activity, is embracing an ever-broadening range of products. One which many would consider an unsuitable candidate is the personal computer. Yet one company has found a commercially promising way, essentially fitting old PC bodies with new "brains" and then retailing them. As well as keeping large quantities of usable plastic out of the environment, this new business aims to stimulate replacement purchases of home-use PCs by nurturing the second-hand market. Other manufacturers are already showing interest.

Reincarnation at the Repair Shop
The business was started experimentally this July by a Tokyo-headquartered major foreign-owned PC maker working in cooperation with a high-volume PC retailer. As a first step, special counters were opened at two of the retailer's outlets in Kanagawa Prefecture to handle enquiries relating to home-use PCs made by the partner. Owners are able to bring in and trade in old machines for 30,000-40,000 yen (250 to 330 dollars at 120 yen to the dollar). These repurchased machines are taken to a factory designated by the manufacturer for replacement of their microprocessors and hard disks, the two components most prone to obsolescence. After cleaning and meticulous performance checks, the original device is reassembled with the new parts. Transportation to the factory, installation of the new microprocessor, and other costs are all met by the retailer, which then sells the reconstituted machine over the counter for around 125,000 yen (1,040 dollars).

At the moment there are only two trade-in stations, but a network spreading gradually across the nation is planned. The three-month test period should establish whether the business will develop a sufficient head of steam to be viable. Other domestic computer majors plan to recycle home-use PCs using a similar approach. It seems likely that the whole industry will eventually get involved.

Reducing Waste
At the moment, whole ranges of PCs are being swept away by relentless waves of technological change. With ever more sophisticated models becoming outdated one year after release, many people have become addicted to buying upgrades. But however rapidly obsolescence overtakes the microprocessors and other thinking parts, the hardware remains almost unblemished and sometimes as good as new. Recycling of these bulky casings is one way to reduce waste in the industry.

Greater attention has been focused on the possibility of recycling PC peripheral equipment and reusing items such as printers and toner cartridges in the wake of the April implementation of legislation mandating container and package recycling; many big companies and other organizations automating their offices are taking concrete steps. But the impact of home-PC recycling, assuming the business takes root, could prove significant. According to Ministry of International Trade and Industry statistics, the proportion of homes with PCs had risen to as high as 22% as of March 1997.

There are other benefits: It would also be possible for PC buyers to get their hands on leading-edge technology at second-hand prices. Manufacturers see scope for giving the whole PC market a fillip, by spurring replacement buying through development of the second-hand market.

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Trends in Japan Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.
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