Repurposed Computers Find a New Home

This past summer, Dr. Norman J. Kleiman, an associate research scientist in Environmental Health Sciences, found new homes in the South Bronx for more than 60 working computers that had outlived their useful life at CUMC. 

Dr. Kleiman’s repurposing initiative, started more than 15 years ago and has extended the lifespan of more than 500 old computers. These machines are given to deserving but less fortunate members in immediate and distant communities. He leads a CUMC-wide effort to collect unwanted computers for use by local and international non-profit groups that, at the same time, delays entry of e-waste into landfills. EHS MPH and doctoral students assist Dr. Kleiman with rebuilding, packaging, and transportation of these machines. 

“Tens of thousands of dollars of potentially useful computers were being thrown in the garbage each year,” Dr. Kleiman notes. “It’s environmentally and economically wasteful and it deprives people of resources that can be reused or repurposed.”

National Cristina Foundation serves as a non-profit clearinghouse between donors and recipients. The beneficiaries of these efforts have included individuals and organizations as varied as: subsistence farming communities in Guatemala; a foundation teaching basic computer skills to disabled and cognitively impaired adults in upstate New York State; and, per Scholas, a neighborhood effort to train underserved students in the South Bronx for employment in IT and related technologies. 

Dr. Kleiman works with Kathleen Crowley (MPH ’91, DrPH ’13), associate vice president of Environmental Health and Safety at Columbia University, who helped find storage space for donated machines. Elizabeth Sparrow Tashiro, the Mailman School’s associate dean for Information Technology and her team are responsible for securely wiping information off all donated hard drives.

Dr. Crowley notes, “Our repurposing efforts provide better accountability for discarded computers, extends the PC lifecycle, and hopefully delays entry of potentially toxic chemicals into the waste stream to a time in the future when we may have developed better ways of reprocessing heavy metals and other toxic compounds.”

In addition to computer equipment, Dr. Kleiman has led efforts to repurpose lab equipment. When the Department relocated to their new lab space, he arranged for the discarded equipment and supplies to be donated to a Queens high school to upgrade their science labs.

If you have old computer equipment you’d like to repurpose, contact Dr. Kleiman.