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Environmentally Responsible Ways to Dispose of Old Computers

written by: •edited by: Michele McDonough•updated: 4/29/2010

Even if you don't recycle regularly, it is imperative that you do so if you need to get rid of a computer as they have components that may be toxic to the soil and groundwater. Read on to learn how to dispose of an old computer.

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    The Importance of Disposing of Old Computers Properly

    When determining how to dispose of an old computer, it is important that you understand why you should not simply toss it into a dumpster and be done with it. Aside from adding more bulk to already burgeoning landfills, computer components contain materials that can be harmful or even toxic to the soil and groundwater. Computers, monitors and other hardware often contain lead, which can cause brain damage in children; cadmium, which can cause kidney poisoning; and mercury, which even a small amount can cause kidney and brain damage. When computers end up in landfills, these toxins may leach into the ground, and seep into the ground water.

    Another important factor to consider when deciding how to dispose of an old computer is that you should remove your personal data. Read The Best Ways to Erase Your Hard Drive to learn how to protect yourself before getting rid of any computer.

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    Donate It

    How to Dispose of an Old Computer 

    If you are wondering how to dispose of an old computer and your computer is only a few years old and still has some life left in it, you may want to consider donating it to a school or non-profit organization that could benefit from it. Before dropping it off at your child's school or your favorite thrift shop, though, contact them to see if they are in need of a computer such as the one you want to discard.

    Charities such as Computers with Causes, The National Cristina Foundation and Students Recycling Used Technology will happily accept your donation, and you may even qualify for a tax credit.

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    Sell, Trade or Barter It

    Trying to figure out how to dispose of an old computer and hoping to get a little something in exchange? Consider selling it via your local classifieds or Craigslist. You might also have some success selling it to a computer repair shop or by posting a flyer on a bulletin board at a nearby college campus.

    If you would be happy trading your old computer for other goods or services, talk to friends, relatives and acquaintances to get the word out that you are looking to swap or barter the computer. You can also set up a trade or make a bartering deal online. Craigslist has a bartering category, and other sites, such as and were created for precisely those purposes.

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    Find a Recycling Program

    If you want to know how to dispose of an old computer but it simply is not worth donating, selling or trading, you can find a local electronics recycler. Several major retailers, such as Best Buy and Office Depot, and computer manufacturers, such as HP and Dell, take part in the EPA's Plug-In To eCycling program. You can find a complete listing of the program's partners on the EPA website. Be sure to contact the manufacturer or retailer to find out specific details about their participation in this program. For instance, they may only collect old computers from customers who are upgrading to a new one.

    Another option is to contact your local waste management or trash and recycling pickup service to see if they offer computer recycling. Even if they do not, you may find that they are knowledgeable of electronics recyclers in your local area.

    Dispose of your old computer responsibly and safely. This way, we all win.