A reader of this website recently asked me what the word Trashware exactly means. Here is a short explanation and a few pointers to more informations. You’re encouraged to add more in the comments.

Many computers are dumped or given away when they are still in perfect conditions, only because somebody or something forced their owners, without a real need, to use some new software program which is (often without real reason!!!) too resource-intensive to run decently on those computers. Trashware means, more or less, “hardware saved from the trash and successfully reused” (sometimes making one “new” computers assembling spare parts from several ones). In practice, the term is used both to refer to the actual computers, and to the practice of saving them from the landfills to help whoever needs a computer but hasn’t enough money to buy one.

For this reason, trashware can be a blessing for schools, families and non-profit associations and also help them to avoid dangerous donations). It is true that you won’t get state of the art computers in this way, but the kind of equipment that trashware groups work with these days is always powerful enough to study or for the daily needs of families, NGOs and small businesses. That’s why, when I first discovered it, I said that Trashware is rightware for cash-strapped organizations.

Trashware doesn’t just save money. Computers also dissipate lots of natural resources even before you buy them and are full of hazardous substances that create huge electronic waste (e-waste) problems worldwide when they are not properly recycled. Since trashware extends the useful life of computers, it can also help a lot to reduce the unnecessary pollution and consumption of energy and raw materials caused by dumping and replacing hardware that could still work without problems for several years.

A good part of the responsibility for e-waste goes to software producers that, for purely commercial reasons, release every 2 or 3 years a new version of their programs that is (on purpose, that is to force everybody to upgrade!) incompatible with the previous versions. In this sense, it is right to say that software pollutes a lot!. For this and other reasons, it is possible to get the greatest benefits from trashware only using Free Software like Linux, that has no license costs, can be installed in any number of copies for any purpose and can be customized at will by whoever has the necessary technical skills. In practice, in order to assemble or receive trashware, that is computers refurbished in this way, two distinct things must happen:

  • somebody must be able to mess with used computers, reassemble them if needed, install Free Software and customize it as they think best

  • compliance with local laws about hardware donation and recycling

The first part is the easiest one, at least in some areas. There are already plenty of computer refurbishers who use Linux and of Linux User Groups worldwide that may help your family, school or NGO to get a working computer, or to make useful for somebody else the computers you don’t need anymore. Taking care of the local legal issues, instead, is much more complicated, but as a rule all the groups that I just mentioned know how things should be handled in their area.