Chances are you've never thought of making earrings out of a Pentium chip or a flowerpot out of a ground-up PC. But Paul Baum, founder of Rumarson Technologies Inc. (RTI), in Kenilworth, N.J., has made the recycling of computers his company's mission. In fact, since he founded RTI in 1992, he's kept about a million computers out of landfills.

With more than $15 million in sales, RTI specializes in acquiring, refurbishing, and distributing computer equipment from trade-in and inventory-buyout programs. For example, a company that wants to upgrade its computers from 386s to Pentiums calls RTI (800-RTI-TRADE), which buys the old computers and helps the company find upgrades. RTI refurbishes the trade-ins and sells them to resellers as "nused" computer equipment. The resellers then sell the nused equipment, with a full warranty, for 25% to 40% less than comparable new equipment. If RTI can't resell equipment, it donates it to charity. And if the equipment can't be salvaged, it's broken down into recyclable parts and used for items like jewelry and flowerpots.

"There are more toxins in a PC than in an oil spill," Baum notes. Last year RTI shipped close to 15,000 goods to resellers, among them Grandpas, a $200-million chain of discount stores in St. Louis that sells everything from diapers to car stereos. Dave Quillo, a senior buyer for Grandpas, says nused equipment makes up about 15% of Grandpas' electronic sales. Home users are the biggest market. Recently the hottest-selling nused computer was the Packard Bell 486, including monitor and CD-ROM, which sold for $999 -- about $400 less than it cost new.

If you're planning to call RTI, take note: it doesn't take trade-ins worth less than $5,000.

-- Sarah Schafer

* * *