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Friday, May 18, 2007, 06:00 am PT (09:00 am ET)

Apple offers green take-backs for old school computers

Apple Inc. is polishing its green image with a new program that gives whole schools, not just individuals, a chance to recycle their old computers rather than send them to landfills — even if they aren't Macs.

The Mac maker let its US educational customers know on Thursday about a special Free Recycling promo which it touted as a way to clear out the backlog of outdated systems at some schools.

Capitalizing on the annual spring turnover at schools, Apple said that K-12 institutions, colleges, and universities with 25 or more computers could register before the end of June to recycle their old systems for free. Much like the company's take-back program for new Mac buyers, the promo doesn't require that any of the older systems come from Apple to qualify for the exchange process.

The California-based firm also pledged to shoulder most of the burden for the effort. Aside from placing the computers on cargo palettes, schools could take a hands-off approach: Apple would collect the systems itself and destroy anything that could become a security risk if left alone. Tags, serial numbers, and other marks would be removed. Hard drives in particular would be broken into "confetti-sized" pieces, Apple said..

And in a gesture towards its publicly stated green policy announced earlier this month by CEO Steve Jobs, the terms of the Free Recycling promo made it clear that all of the American computers it received would be recycled solely within the country. Greenpeace has previously attacked several high-profile computer companies for shipping obsolete PCs to Asia, where the PCs were often recycled improperly. The activist group later cautiously praised Apple for its efforts in the US while questioning the company's international greening work.

This level of take-back effort is still relatively young at the computer builder, which began its first recycling as early as 1994 but opened its first business and educational programs less than two years ago, in August 2005.