Computer Recycling Guide

Photo courtesy of Flickr: Paul Garland

Computers don't last forever. Over time parts become outdated, obsolete, and damaged. With newer designs and models cropping up every day, owners are often left wondering what to do with old computers. Computer recycling is not only good for the environment, but it is also a great way for undamaged computer components to become useful in another machine.

Why Recycle Computers?

Leaving old and broken computers unused on an old dusty shelf is like leaving a box of toxic waste in the home. Computers are host to carcinogens and toxins and should be handled as such waste when deciding to recycle. The inner workings of a computer can be home to PCB's, radioactive isotopes, mercury, lead, cadmium, chromium, and dioxins. By recycling old and damaged computers, these hazardous materials will be eliminated from the house. By recycling computers over other methods of eliminating them from the home, it also decreases the chance of air and water pollution from corrosion of the computer components and electrical makeup. In cases where computers have just become outdated or obsolete, the components inside the computer may still be salvageable for use in other computers or electronic devices.

The Environmental Protective Agency has an initiative called "e-cycling." The initiative was set up to safely assist in electronic recycling and waste disposal. There is much debate over the benefits of "e-cycling." The general consensus is that taxpayers save money in the long run because it limits the damage that could be caused by contaminated ground water and polluted landfills. It also allows for foreign minable materials to be reclaimed, which in turn decreases the need for mining in foreign territories.

Regulations for Computer Recycling

Different countries have different regulations regarding computer recycling. In the United States, computer recycling is regulated on both a federal and a state level. The Resource and Conservation Recovery Act of 1976 was put in place by the federal government agency in charge of solid waste. Separate laws govern battery disposal. Not all states have passed legislation on recycling computers and computer parts, but many have. In most cases, the regulations follow those of larger electronic waste concerns.

Types of Computer Recycling

There are a few methods of recycling that are appropriate for computers. Personal computer owners can sell or donate old computers. Using online auction sites, such as eBay, can be one way in which old computers can be sold. There are also non-profit organizations in need of computers that would gladly accept donations. Personal consumers can also take advantage of take back programs implemented by the original manufacturer. Many of the largest computer companies offer recycling programs. Personal computer owners using these programs can arrange for old computers to be returned to the manufacturer by pick up or post. In some cases, these programs offer recycling incentives by giving the recycler a coupon towards a new computer purchase. Some companies also offer a free replacement service for customers purchasing a new computer. Computers can also be taken to scrapping facilities, where professionals can remove the components and sell them individually.

Security Concerns for Computer Recycle

Many people use computers to store secure and sensitive information. It is important to note the security risks when recycling computers and to take necessary actions to combat these risks. Prior to getting rid of a computer, the hard drive should be completely wiped of information in order to prevent the risk of identity theft. Hard drives can be reopened, and should the information still be on them, credit card numbers, financial account information, and online transaction records can be readily accessed. These security concerns also extend to large companies, particularly financial ones that handle sensitive information. Many countries have created recycle standards for businesses discarding or recycling computers to ensure they are done in a safe and secure way. Under guidelines set in place by the National Association for Information Destruction, the Environmental Protective Agency, and state Departments of Environmental Protection, computer hardware can be safely discarded. Under these regulations, hardware is transported in secure vehicles, hard drives are shredded, and aluminum is separated from waste metals. The remains are then collected and sent to a recycling plant, while the remaining hard drive parts are molded into aluminum ingots.

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