Summer 2003

ValleyNet in Vermont: A Model Recycling Partnership
by Ronald Boehm and John Fay

In 2002, two organizations pulled together to provide their community with a single event for handling all unwanted used computer equipment.ValleyNet, a not-for-profit, community network and ISP in Norwich, VT that serves eastern Vermont and western New Hampshire, and the Greater Upper Valley Solid Waste Management District (GUVSWD) of North Hartland, VT. Once again, in April 2003 these two non-profit organizations got together to host their annual Swap Meet and Recycling Event.

For several years, ValleyNet had offered an annual sale-and-swap community event where used computer equipment could be bought and sold. At the same time, GUVSWD organized events where old computer equipment could be accepted for recycling. The partnership drew upon the experience and assets of each organization:

  • The Community Network (CN) used free web site advertising to get the word out to community members and to targeted population of computer users.
  • The CN secured access to a good-size program room (1600 sq. ft.) in a local museum with parking, whereas the GUVSWD has no such facility.
  • The CN’s “techies” (computer hardware/software experts) determined approximate value of equipment, if any, and whether it had any resale potential.
  • The Waste District supplied knowledge of the recycling channels available, the level of service provided by each, the costs of each, and whether they were environmentally and socially responsible companies.
  • The Waste District contracted with the chosen recycler and handled logistics.
  • Proceeds from the sale of used computers were used to offset the cost of recycling, keeping the recycling fee charged to minimal levels.
  • The entire event helped the organizations achieve their primary missions.
  • The easy, full-service event created significant good-will and exposure for both the CN and the Waste District.

How It Worked

The event was spread over two days. The opportunity for bringing computers in was on a Friday, and the sale of used equipment was on Saturday. Recycling was available both days.


  • Close to $2,100 was spent on local newspaper advertising.
  • Public service announcements were run on local cable access and on local market radio stations (another benefit of having a nonprofit participate).
  • Free event calendars were contacted for postings.
  • We wrote a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, and it was published 10 days before the event.
  • Posters were printed and displayed at local food stores, libraries, and other venues.
  • Emails were sent to all 7,000 subscribers of ValleyNet reminding them of the event. The first email was sent 14 days before the event and the follow-up was sent three days before the event.
  • Local ISPs were also contacted, and they promoted the event on their web sites.

Day One

All day, computers were accepted both for sale and for recycling. Residents and organizations including schools, municipalities, and corporations with equipment to get rid of pulled up to our check-in location. There, our techies determined if the computer was saleable or not. (In Spring 2003, systems had to have a CD-ROM drive and a Pentium running Windows 98 or better. For Macs, we required a PowerPC-level processor to be considered saleable. This relatively high standard was required because even though the community is based in rural New England, there is high computer sophistication among residents.)

If a computer was deemed appropriate for resale, the owner decided to donate it to the event or to sell it on consignment. (This choice was possible because the CN is a 501(c)3 charitable corporation, and many donors could take advantage of the tax implications.) Selling donated computers increased our cash reserves for subsidizing the recycling, plus additional proceeds were allocated for a scholarship fund. If the computers were sold on a consignment basis, then 75% of the sale price was returned to the original owner.

The techies helped in determining the selling price but did not assist the donor in determining the value for donations—in accordance with IRS rules. The equipment was then brought to the community room where the sale was to be held. There, a table was staffed with several people to handle the appropriate paperwork for consignment and donation. Each computer was assigned and labeled with a number, and then each was placed with its general group (PCs in one area, Macs in another, printers another, etc).

If the equipment was not saleable, the resident could decide to recycle it for a $10/system fee or to take it back home. Individual peripherals were recycled for a $5 fee. We highly recommend that the recycled equipment gets handled once and is deposited in the truck that will ultimately deliver the equipment to the recycling vendor. This “triaging” was done right at the recycling truck so that the recycled units could be placed immediately on the tractor trailer recycling truck.

At the 2003 recycling event we added a new element—free cell phone recycling. The public could drop off their unwanted cell phones at no charge. ValleyNet partnered with CollectedGood. CollectedGood is a mobile phone recycling resource that recycles cell phones in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. ValleyNet acted as a repository and will receive a small stipend as a fundraising collection program.

Also present at the recycling event in 2003 were representatives from WinCycle of Windsor, Vermont. They were able to accept as donations items that didn’t meet the Swap Meet standards but were still useful and functional. WinCycle is a non-profit organization that donates functional computers and other equipment to individuals in need, educational institutions, and non-profit charitable groups.

When time for accepting computers for sale was over, the systems were set on tables, organized, and booted up. Some testing was done, and the systems could be functional the next day for show during the sale. It was important in the pre-event publicity to warn donors that their systems should be cleaned of personal files before dropping them off. We also created “system tags” that explained the chip speed, hard drive size, and other important facts about the system for the potential buyers.

Day Two

The sale ran from 10 am to 1 pm. An admission fee of $1 was charged for possible buyers. Revenues from sales were carefully tracked. From 1-2 pm, people who had consigned equipment could return to reclaim any unsold pieces. At 2 pm, schools and non-profits who had registered in advance were allowed to scour the leftovers and take any for free on a rotating lottery basis. At 3 pm, clean-up commenced with any remaining equipment taken to the recycling truck or held for a subsequent event.

Warning: Several people who enjoy tinkering with computers showed up at the recycling trailer in attempts to find parts to scavenge. This created a safety issue with too many people around and climbing on the material, and they could have damaged some valuable equipment. It is recommended that scavengers are turned away and are told to purchase the inexpensive used equipment. This is also good environmental/public policy since those who have paid the recycling fee expect their equipment to be properly disposed.


Checks were prepared and sent to people who had consignment sales. Revenues included those monies, gate receipts from the event, sale from donations, and recycling revenue. After advertising and other expenses, there was still money left over for a $1,000 donation to a local scholarship fund.

The event required participation of about 30 staff members and volunteers, including a troop of Boy Scouts that did a lot of the heavy lifting for the recycling. Personalized thank-you notes were also sent to all donors, volunteers, and consignment sale participants.

Collection Numbers

The local community served represents about 30,000 households. About 250 residents and 20 organizations brought in equipment for recycling for a total of 28,500 pounds—over 14 tons! This amount of material filled a 53-foot tractor trailer. The recycler charged $0.18/ pound, plus trucking back to Massachusetts, for a total of $5,938.


About 75 computers were in the sale, as well as many peripherals including printers, modems, scanners, monitors, and FAX machines. The average price of Mac systems with basic color monitor, CD, modem, mouse and keyboard was $50. The average price for an early Pentium machine with 15” color monitor, CD-ROM, keyboard, mouse, modem, and printer was $125.

Keeping prices this low helped individuals and families that could not afford new computers have a computer. We did limit computer sales to a maximum of three systems to prevent dealers from taking advantage of the low prices. We also have considered “needs testing” for potential buyers, but have not come up with a suitable strategy.

Additional Notes

We did not accept any impact printers for sale. We require that they be recycled since there is no acceptable local market for them. We also turned over every IBM XT, AT, 386, 486, Win95, and their associated peripherals to the recycler. Many Win95 machines will be resold in other markets.

Resale prices are quite low. It is very difficult for many consumers who spent $2,500 five years ago for a computer to see it sold for just over $100. However, market conditions demand that pricing structure especially if the goal is to move the equipment in the least possible time frame.

Used color printers are difficult to sell without the driver software or functional ink cartridges. They do sell, but at the $25 price point.

Selling used software has also been a problem. Remember, our goal is to have the room totally cleaned out by 5 pm. In past years, we have been swamped with used software that eventually ended up in the landfill. We are still searching for an adequate solution for reselling this resource.

Privacy is a growing concern. Many donors wanted to drop off the equipment with the casual remark “Please wipe the hard drive.” This was not only physically impossible for us to do in the short time frame, but we have found that used computers need a working operating system for them to sell. We continually urge donors to perform their own file removal and keep some basic software on the machine such as word processing software or games.


The ValleyNet/GUVWSD Computer Sale and Recycling Event was a huge success that built on earlier efforts over the past 5 years. It takes meticulous planning and a lot of hard work from many individuals; however, the results are measurable and dramatic. Functional computer equipment ends up in the hands of needy families at below market prices, individuals with higher incomes get a tax deduction for donating equipment, and broken equipment was properly recycled according to the best known practices. Proceeds were donated to a local scholarship fund and local nonprofits and schools receive functional computers at no cost. We are already getting calls from donors of when we are having the next event.

Ronald Boehm is the Executive Director of ValleyNet, Inc., and John Fay is the Program Director for the Greater Upper Valley Solid Waste District.

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