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How to Recycle Printed Circuit Boards from Obsolete Equipment

written by: Lara Stewart•edited by: BStone•updated: 2/22/2011

Printed circuit boards contain mercury which can damage the environment, as well as other substances that do not break down on their own, which means that they should be kept out of landfills. Learn how to recycle printed circuit boards to prevent pollution.

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    Electronics ranging from computers to DVD players to bread machines contain printed circuit boards. Printed circuit boards make up about 3 percent of all electronic waste. These boards are made up of a number of non-biodegradable materials. Some, like the small amounts of precious metals they contain, are highly sought after. Others have required some innovation to reuse.

    Instead of allowing these materials to clog up landfills, learn how to recycle printed circuit boards to reduce your environmental impact.

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    Sending Your Circuit Boards to a Recycler

    There are a number of companies that seek out printed circuit boards in order to remove and reuse the precious metals they contain. If you work for a company that discards a substantial amount of obsolete printed circuit boards, you may be able to sell these items that you no longer use, to them.

    There are also a number of companies that will take donations of obsolete computer equipment that you wish to recycle, including printed circuit boards. Some companies, such as Apple, Acer and HP, take items for free. Others, like Epson, charge a nominal disposal fee to handle recycled items.

    There may be local drop off points where you can recycle obsolete electronic equipment like printed circuit boards. The recycling directory site Earth911 can help you find a local place to recycle your old electronics. You should also contact your county's waste disposal facility and ask whether they accept printed circuit boards.

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    Reusing Circuit Boards

    While the printed circuit boards you have may be damaged or otherwise unusable as electronic components, you can still find ways to reuse them. A number of crafters are finding aesthetic inspiration in printed circuit boards. A few ideas for recycling printed circuit boards by incorporating them into your creative projects:

    • Mount and frame circuit boards with interesting patterns. Displaying a trio of them together makes for a modern and unusual art installation.
    • Drill holes in printed circuit boards and use them as the covers of handmade journals. Alternately, circuit boards can be attached to the front cover of store-bought journals as an embellishment.
    • Attach circuit boards to the top of a coffee table and then seal with pourable resin.
    • Cut up circuit boards and make pendants and earrings from the pieces.
    • Attach circuit boards to accessories like clutch purses or wallets.
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    The Future of Printed Circuit Board Recycling

    While the metals in printed circuit boards are recovered by recyclers, until recently, it has been hard to find uses for the non-metallic components. However, in 2008, researchers in China began developing a method to recycle the entire circuit boards into new, useful items. The process involves grinding the circuit boards into a powder that is then held together by resin. The resulting material can be used to build items such as park benches and fencing. Through this recycling method, not only will obsolete computer equipment be kept out of landfills, but, smaller amounts of virgin materials will be used, resulting in lower environmental impact overall.

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    Adding electronic waste into the waste stream or not disposing of electronic equipment properly has a negative effect on us all. Knowing how to recycle printed circuit boards is only one step. When dropping off, sending in, or even reusing your obsolete circuit boards, consider properly disposing of all of your e waste that you have at the time.

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    Resources

    ZDNet - http://www.zdnet.com/blog/emergingtech/a-new-way-to-recycle-electronic-circuit-boards/1005

    BW Recycling - http://www.webuyics.com/scrap-pcb.htm

    Earth911 - www.earth911.com

    Author's personal experience