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Rejuvenate, Reuse, Recycle: Earth Day-Friendly Solutions for Your Aging Mac

What can I do with my old Mac? That’s a question we hear quite often, and it indicates a desire to do something more with a Mac than simply send it off to the landfill when it comes time to consider replacing it.

I’m old enough to vividly remember the first Earth Day in 1970. Organizer Denis Hayes said 20 million Americans participated in a demonstration of support for environmental protection. Back then, we spent the day picking up trash and attending seminars about alternative energy sources that we should be developing. Today, OWC is using a wide variety green energy sources, such as wind, solar, and geothermal. We’ve come a long way since those heady early days.

(Solar panels at OWC headquarters in Woodstock, Ill.)

While I don’t remember any specific concern back then about electronic waste and the damage it could do by leaching toxins into the environment, it has become a major concern in subsequent years. And why not, considering all the electronics we see in use every day.

There’s always something we can do to help, no matter how small. In this article, we’re going to look at how you can extend the life of your Mac to help keep it out of the landfill. And when the time comes that it no longer serves a useful purpose, we’ll tell you what you can do to recycle its components.

Upgrade Your Mac
One way to keep your Mac out of the landfill is to consider upgrading it with improved components instead of retiring it and replacing it with something newer. This approach has quite a number of advantages for you, including an overall lower cost than replacing your Mac, and an impressive environmental effect, one that not only eliminates the impact of tossing your Mac out, but also reduces the impact of building new replacement Macs to fill the void.

I have to admit I’ve been using the upgrade process for years. I tend to hang on to my Macs for a long time, mostly by upgrading components and peripherals as needed, as well as finding a new use for the older Macs. You can find out more about the latter in a bit, but right now, let’s look at upgrading your Mac.

RAM Upgrades
Increasing the size of available RAM can allow the Mac OS, along with your apps, to be more responsive. It can reduce the need for the Mac to compress memory or to page memory to disk, either of which can severely impact overall performance.

If you have a Mac that supports user-upgradeable RAM, this improvement can be all it takes to keep your Mac feeling like new.

Unfortunately, not all Macs support user-installable RAM upgrades. You can use the My Upgrades Guide to determine whether your Mac supports self-installed RAM.

Storage Upgrades
Storage upgrades can also serve your Mac well, and not just by adding more space to store your data, which can itself improve performance if your drives are nearly full. You can also increase performance by using a storage device that can operate faster than the stock drive you’re replacing in your Mac.

A favorite upgrade that can make your Mac seem as if it’s a brand new model with exceptional performance is to replace a startup drive that uses a spinning platter with an SSD. In most circumstances, this upgrade can provide a performance boost that can add years of life to your Mac.

Depending on the Mac model you have, changing out the internal startup drive can be an easy task that anyone can undertake, a DIY task that anyone with basic skills can perform, an advanced DIY task that can be a bit tricky, or in some cases, a task that may not be a great idea to undertake. You can use the My Upgrade Guide linked above to explore your upgrade options.Even if an internal drive upgrade isn’t feasible for your Mac, you can almost always take advantage of the Mac’s Thunderbolt or USB ports to add an external storage solution that in some cases will outperform a Mac that uses a standard internal hard drive. This type of upgrade has two advantages: it can be performed at any skill level, and an external drive can be used with a new Mac when the day comes to finally retire your old one.

Other Mac Upgrades
There are other upgrades available that can help keep your Mac feeling like it did when it was new. Have a need for more or faster peripheral ports? Perhaps a Thunderbolt Dock, which you can use to add a number of ports to your Mac, including USB 3.1 ports, S/PDIF for pro-grade audio, legacy ports such as FireWire 800, or perhaps a wired Gigabit Ethernet port for Macs that only have Wi-Fi connectivity.

While the various Thunderbolt Docks come preconfigured with an assortment of ports, perhaps a Thunderbolt expansion chassis such as the OWC Mercury Helios (pictured right) is a better choice. This type of enclosure allows you to add a PCIe card to your Mac. With that kind of versatility, you can add just about any component you may need to keep your Mac up to date. Need super-fast data storage? It’s possible to add a high performance SSD that will outperform non-RAID SATA-based storage systems. The Thunderbolt expansion chassis is also a good candidate for housing video capture equipment, to allow your Mac to keep up with video editing trends and requirements without having to buy a new Mac.

Reuse Your Mac
When you decide a new Mac is the best way to go, it doesn’t mean your old Mac is out of work. There are numerous jobs your old Mac can be tasked with, including being used as a media server, file server, or print server. If it has the word “server” in it, your old Mac can probably perform the task.

You may also want to consider installing a different operating system on your old Mac. There are some pretty amazing Linux and Unix distributions that can make good use of older Macs.

Related: Turning An Older Mac Into A New Chromebook

If you don’t have a need to put the old Mac to work, how about turning it into a hand-me down Mac? You may have family members who would love to have their own Mac; you could also donate the Mac to a local charity.

Recycle Your Mac or Its Components
Even when you can’t find a reuse for your Mac, it can be kept out of the local landfill through recycling. If you’re upgrading components on your Mac, the old parts can usually be recycled. In many cases, the reseller you’re buying the new components from will offer a way to recycle the old. Rebates and credits are also often offered for the old parts. Rebate Center

Beyond rebates, which usually require the components being returned to be operational, there are straight recycling services that will take the old parts, strip them down to their basic components, and then resell or recycle them. As an example, a memory card can have the gold, copper, and alumina from the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) reprocessed and sold; solder used to attach components can be reclaimed and reprocessed into new solder bars used in the electronic manufacturing process; and the non-metal and non-hazardous parts remaining, while having limited recycling value, are sometimes shredded and used as fillers in various “plastic” wood products or in concrete mixes.

If you’re having difficulties finding an E-Waste (Electronics Waste) recycler, many states have an E-Waste program that can direct you to drop-off points, mail-in programs, and other places that will take your electronics.

Try searching for the term e-waste and the name of the state you’re in, or check your state’s EPA website.

Of course, Apple is a leading electronics recycler and will take your iPod, iPad, iPhone, Mac, or Apple Watch, as well as a competitor’s smartphone or PC. Smaller devices can be recycled through Apple Stores, and any of the electronics that meet Apple requirements can also be shipped to Apple for recycling. Shipping is free, and depending on the device you’re recycling, Apple may provide you with an Apple gift card for participating.

Used Macs as Replacements
Another option for environmental and cost-conscious individuals is a used or refurbished Mac. By buying in this manner, you help keep a Mac out of the scrap heap while at the same time realizing a cost savings. You don’t even have to settle for “yesterday’s” technology since current Mac models are available in both the used and refurbished spaces.

OWC offers pre-owned Macs that have been tested and certified by OWC’s expert technicians. Warranties vary, but all come with at least a 90-day warranty and a 14-day money back return policy.

We’ve covered the basics of upgrading and recycling your Mac. But you don’t need to wait for the next Earth Day to help maintain or improve the environment. The simple task of keeping your electronics out of the landfill helps everyone enjoy a cleaner place to work, live, and play.

Tom Nelson
the authorTom Nelson
Tom has been an enthusiastic Mac user since the Mac Plus. He’s also been known to dabble in the dark side, otherwise known as Windows, and has a well-deserved reputation for being able to explain almost anything to anybody. Tom’s background includes more than 30 years as an engineer, programmer, network manager, software tester, software reviewer, database designer, and computer network and systems designer. His online experience includes working as a sysop, forum leader, writer, and software library manager.
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  • This is an awesome article. I’m glad some one has finally brought attention to all of this stuff. Originally, I was wondering what to do before I recycle my PC. So, I did some research online and found some great companies that take things like e-waste. While there are many out there, one I found to be particularly helpful was All Green Electronics – They gave me all the info I needed to make an informed decision. Learn more about all green electronics recycling. You’ll be glad you did. Message me if you feel the same way!

  • I have Mac’s going back to 1990 and they all work. I was considering taking my Lime green Imac and installing a larger drive and making it an itunes server of some sort. All our 09 Imac, Mini and macbook work great on Yosemite for what we need. Sadly my G5 which I used to use fro Pro tools has a Power supply issue which I may fix.

  • I have always wondered whether an old Mac Pro, pre-2013, could have gotten a new motherboard that would have accommodated the most recent OS.

  • What’s the state of the art on software emulation? I keep a Snow iBook with OSX 10.4 (?) to run a circ 1995 HP scanner that has fantastic dpi & is set up for scanning film negatives. The software won’t work on later MacOS. HP abandoned the product & software. Of course, even connecting the scanner to a current computer would require an adapter for the round DIN connector…

    • A few months ago I looked into the ChromeBook coversion for a couple of Mac laptops and a Snowball iMac, but they are all too old. They are G4 running 10.4.11, all with PowerPC processors. They still run pretty well, they all run dvd’s well (good for the grandchildren) and the iMac is a storage for photos. Is there a Linux OS that can be used, or some other use I can find for these well-made machines? Also sitting in the back of the closet, just dying to run OS9, is a G3 Wallstreet which is just a dinosaur for the fun of it. anyone have any ideas to put these machines to work, or are they recycle bait?? Thanks to all who respond bob.c

      • Hi Robert, there is a group of enthusiasts for older Macs on Facebook called “Low End Mac”. There is a lot of knowledge in the group about repairing machines, especially down to component level, as well as upgrading or re-purposing older machines. They also have a healthy buy/sell/swap arena. Have a look, you may find some new ideas or help to rekindle your old flame!

        • Hey John, thanks for the reply. I will check in with the Facebook group…before I cancel my account! I picked up a new/used iMac that is lightyears ahead of the old Snowball, so maybe someone can use it for parts. I don’t want to just chuck it out. After I clean it out, got a lotta junk it!