Chances are you've got a stash of used computer stuff somewhere. A couple of cellphones. An obsolete digital camera. An old laptop. A PDA you ditched...

Share story

Chances are you’ve got a stash of used computer stuff somewhere. A couple of cellphones. An obsolete digital camera. An old laptop. A PDA you ditched for a BlackBerry or Treo.

I don’t even want to think about how much I’ve got lying around. There’s the bureau drawer full of cellphones, the oldest an $800 Motorola MicroTac flip-phone from 1989. An Olympus C-2000 digital camera I haven’t used in years. A Palm. A Pocket PC. An old Windows 98 laptop. Three or four microcassette recorders.
Heck, I’ve got an 11-year-old Apple PowerBook 540 I’ve kept around just for nostalgic reasons.

All of this stuff still works. It just got upgraded into oblivion.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

Apparently, I fit right in to the Seattle packrat profile. According to a recent survey co-commissioned by eBay, two out of every three Seattle households have electronic gear they no longer use. That’s well above the national average of 56 percent, which seems high in itself.

The figures attest to technology’s irrepressible march, and Americans’ inability to part with digital detritus.

But wait. Here come the eBay folks to the rescue. Not only are they willing to take this stuff off our hands, they promise us money back in the bargain.

“Don’t Trash It, Cash It!” is what they call the campaign they’re bringing to Seattle. It’s part altruism, part self-promotion. Under its “Rethink Initiative” for addressing e-waste, eBay wants to keep old equipment out of trash cans and landfills. And it wants to show the uninitiated the wonders of online auctioneering, where even the lowliest silicon discard can draw cash on the open market.

So this Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the north end event court of Northgate Mall, folks from eBay will take all comers. They plan to have a “Willie Wonka-esque” conveyor belt and rack-‘n’-stack system set up to speed processing.

A team of independent Seattle online entrepreneurs who know the eBay ropes — trading assistants, eBay calls them — are to be on hand to do the grunt work.

Here are the ground rules: Portable stuff only — no monitors, desktop computers, laser printers and so on. Items must be in working order. All data should be erased.

The assistants will do the processing, put the stuff up on eBay and send you a check when it sells. They’ll also help with prep, showing you how to erase that disk if you haven’t already. For this they take a 25 percent commission (the typical going rate these days for third-party agents) of the sale. There are no other fees — eBay’s listing charge is included in the commission.

If it doesn’t sell, you won’t get it back. It’ll be recycled. At least you won’t have to make a second trip.

What people will pay for old stuff is all over the map. But the eBay story — 135 million registered users, 50,000 categories, 404 million listings and $6 billion a year worth of tech merchandise alone sold — suggests that it’s more than you might think. A late-model laptop can bring in a couple of hundred dollars or more.

“Cash It” will take just about anything that works, said Patrick Jabal, director of eBay computers and networking — even if the rechargeable battery is toast or the manufacturer no longer exists. You are asked to bring along whatever accessories and documentation you might have, including a power brick and manual.

Jabal said eBay has no idea what to expect Saturday. I told him Seattle is a swap meet kind of place. People really come out of the woodwork.

eBay is doing “Cash It” in two other cities — Boston and Austin, Texas. Seattle’s survey numbers “really jumped out at us,” Jabal said. The average household here has more than six computer items, including those in storage.

“Look at it this way,” Jabal said. “You not only get to make some money, you get all that space back in the closet.”

Paul Andrews is a freelance technology writer and co-author of “Gates.” He can be reached at