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Why Should We Recycle Computers?

written by: John Garger•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 8/4/2010

Computers have become such a huge part of our lives that we do not realize just how much waste we generate from old computers. Learn why you should have an end-of-life strategy for your computer hardware.

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    Computers and related hardware have found a permanent home in our list of tools to do business, have fun, and communicate with others. The result has been a huge rise in the number of computers we own, use, and eventually dispose of. Unfortunately, by nature of how we use and consume computer hardware, the effects on the environment can be significant and dangerous.

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    The Effects of Computer Waste on the Environment

    As we all know, computer technology moves at a pace faster than with which most of us can keep up. Today the greatest video card is introduced but tomorrow it is old news with the announcement of the next one. CRT monitors have given way to LCD flat-panel displays, and as the prices of computer hardware continue to drop, the demand to get rid of the old computer and get the new one is stronger than ever.

    These elements of the computer hardware industry and consumption practices of consumers have created an environmental problem for many states. Landfills fill up quickly with bulky computer equipment and the chemicals contained within the hardware can leak out into our ground and water supplies.

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that only about 18% of computer products including CPUs, monitors, notebooks, keyboards, mice, and other peripherals are recycled. The remaining 82% are disposed using various methods including dumping into landfills.

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    Computer Recycling Programs

    In response to the growing waste generated by the consumption of computer products, many computer manufacturers now offer recycling programs so you can properly dispose of your old computer when you buy a new one. Often, these computers are gutted for working parts that eventually make their way into working computers that are donated to educational institutions and charitable agencies.

    Even some companies not directly responsible for the waste that ends up in our landfills are getting involved. For example, eBay’s Rethink initiative “brings together industry, government and environmental organizations to offer a fresh perspective and new answers to the challenge of e-waste." It offers advice and information on how to reduce and recycle old electronic equipment including computer hardware.

    The EPA also maintains an eCycling site providing information on the effects of electronic waste on our environment and steps you can take to reduce and recycle your computer hardware. Retrobox.com also offers information and advice on properly disposing of electronic equipment. This company states that it is “...committed to environmental sustainability through a comprehensive program of reuse, remanufacturing, redeployment, and recycling." Check out its commitment to the 4 C’s of fostering environmental responsibility for more information.

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    How to Recycle or Repurpose a Computer Yourself

    There are even some simple steps you can take to ensure that your old computer does not unnecessarily take up space in a landfill. By repurposing your old computer, you prolong its life and the time before it ends up as junk in a landfill. Check out the list below for some ideas on recycling and repurposing an old computer.

    1) Donate your working equipment to a worthwhile charity. If you outgrew your old computer but it still has some life left in it, consider donating your computer to those who cannot afford one. Better yet, contact your local high school or community college. Often, they use computers to teach students about building and maintaining computers.

    2) Give your old computer to your kids. Not only does this keep the peace when more than one kid needs a computer, it ensures that your computer’s data will not be corrupted when kids start to explore your hard drive’s data structure.

    3) Give your old computer to your parents. If your old computer is still functional, give it to your parents to use. They may not need the latest and greatest computer to do basic computing and you can cut down on phone call expenses by using e-mail.

    4) Contact your local waste management office. Many states have enacted laws concerning the disposal of electronic equipment. The result is that many cities and local municipalities already have measures for disposing and recycling of computer hardware.

    5) Check if the computer’s manufacturer has a plan for recycling. As stated above, many manufacturers have programs in place to recycle or dispose of hardware they have manufactured. Often, it costs nothing to recycle your computer so why throw it in the landfill unnecessarily?

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    Conclusion

    The computer industry generates a lot of waste because the market moves quickly to the latest and greatest computer equipment. The result is a huge amount of computer hardware waste that can end up in landfills and significantly affect our environment. Recycling computer hardware not only saves money by reducing landfill costs, it can even make it possible for the less fortunate to have a computer they could not otherwise afford. Many computer manufacturers already have recycling programs in place. Check with them and see if you can recycle your computer free.