Computer Recycling Guidance

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What are the environmental concerns?

Computers and electronics are an integral part of our daily lives. We use them for communication, data storage, keeping up with the daily news, and many other activities in our lives. We have reached the point where we can't live without them. But electronics have become a waste disposal problem as well.

Large quantities of televisions, computers, VCR's, printers, cellphones and other electronic equipment are finding their way to closets, attics, garages, storage areas, illegal dumps and landfills as the products become obsolete.

The computer and electronic waste stream is growing rapidly in the United States. While the electronic waste stream is only two percent of the municipal waste stream, it is growing three times faster than any other waste material we generate. It has been estimated that Americans dispose of 12 million to 14 million computers each year and this number is expected to increase.

Many computers and electronics contain components that can be hazardous to the environment. Some of these components include:

  • Cathode ray tubes (CRT) - the glass picture tubes found in computer monitors and TVs contain lead, while the flat-screen monitors contain small quantities of mercury. The amount of lead varies from four to six pounds per unit.
  • Printed circuit boards contain hazardous metals including chromium, cadmium, lead and mercury.
  • Batteries in electronics and computers may contain lead, mercury, nickel and cadmium.

While these are not problems when we initially purchase the product, they become an environmental issue when we dispose of these items as they become obsolete.

What are the benefits of recycling computers and electronics?

Recycling and reusing electronic equipment reduces the amount of hazardous materials that may enter the environment. Recycling and reuse programs also reduce the quantities of electronic scrap being landfilled in the state.

Computers in Mississippi are being refurbished by established programs in the state. The refurbished computers are then placed into classrooms across the state where they benefit children and help extend school budgets for other needed items. Some computer refurbishing programs also provide computers to individuals and non-profit organizations that cannot afford to buy new computers.

The process by which computers and other electronic equipment are refurbished or broken down to their basic parts is called de-manufacturing. This helps conserve energy and raw materials needed to manufacture new computers and electronic equipment. These parts are then reused in upgrading other computers.

Computer refurbishing programs have shown to be an excellent work force training tool for correctional facilities, young adults, and the mentally and physically challenged. The correctional facility program trains inmates with computer skills that should help them find jobs upon their release.

How are computers and related parts recycled?

Computer recycling generates a large amount of reusable components. When computers are disassembled as part of a de-manufacturing program, various components are removed for recycling or reuse. Some examples include:

  • The CRT glass is shipped off to either a secondary lead smelter to recover the lead or to a CRT glass manufacturer where the glass is used to produce new CRT glass.
  • The electronic components in the CPU are removed and sold as parts to various manufacturers/recyclers across the country. These parts include the circuit board, memory chips, hard drive, rechargeable battery, power supply, processor, and various video and sound cards.
  • Plastic components are separated by type and either shredded and sold to plastic processors or blended as a fuel source for energy.
  • Metal components are separated and sent to scrap metal recyclers where it is sold to smelters to be melted down and used to make new steel products.

What are the options for disposal and recycling?

Several recycling options are available to businesses, industries, local and state governments, and households in the state.

  • Computer Recycling Program - Computer equipment from businesses and households in SF Bay Area can be donated to nonprofits. Call 650-307-7553  for more information on this program.
  • Computer/Electronics Collection Event - An event can be coordinated by one or more organizations in the community to collect for recycling old computers and electronics from both residents and businesses. Call us 650-307-7553 to learn how to coordinate an event in your community.
  • Other options - Computers may also be donated to local schools, charitable organizations and churches. Some dealers, retailers or manufacturers will take back old equipment when new equipment is purchased. Ask the electronics dealer or manufacturer about programs to accept old equipment for resale or recycling.

Recycling outdated computer and electronic equipment is important to everyone. If you have questions, comments, or need assistance regarding the recycling of computers and electronics, contact Clean Bay Area 650-307-7553

What are some options for prevention and reduction?

Lease equipment - Consider leasing computers rather than purchasing them. By doing so the user does not assume ownership of the product in a lease. When it is time to upgrade the computer to a newer product, the old unit is returned to the vendor, often for a credit toward the purchase of a new computer.

Purchase durable products - Take the time and effort to evaluate the various electronic devices. Money can be saved in the long run by purchasing a more durable and slightly more expensive piece of electronic equipment.

Repair instead of replace - Repairing an electronic device may be cheaper than replacing it. CAUTION should be taken when doing in repair work on a computer monitor. Every monitor contains a capacitor which can electrocute someone who is not properly grounded.

Purchase upgradable equipment - Equipment can often be upgraded by replacing a single component, such as memory chips, instead of the entire unit. Discuss upgradable issues with the retailer prior to making the purchase.

How do you delete the hard drive of sensitive information?

Erasing the hard drive of sensitive information before recycling a computer is extremely important. There are software packages that can be purchased from computer and electronic stores that can help do this. Several of these software packages include Access Data Corporation's Secure Clean and Symantec Corporation's WipeInfo.

Computers with Windows 95 and 98 come with an F-disk that can be inserted into the computer during start-up which will help in removing sensitive materials.

Talk with someone who is knowledgeable about computers to ensure all the sensitive material is deleted prior to recycling or donating a computer.

Author: Mississipi Department of Environmental Quality

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