Mother Earth Living

When Computers Byte the Dust: How to Recycle Your Computer

Be good to the environment and dispose of your computer in a eco-friendly manner.
By Maren Thompson Bzdek
September/October 2001
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Unnecessary upgrades and growing ranks of users are causing exponential growth of trashed computers. The National Recycling Coalition’s 2001 survey predicts that between now and 2007, 500 million personal computers will be discarded. And the National Safety Council estimates that only 11 percent of discarded computers avoid the senseless fate of the landfill or the incinerator.

As if wasting reusable materials isn’t a sad enough tale, there is the problem of heavy metals, which can leach into groundwater or pollute the air if incinerated. A single crushed monitor can leach up to eight pounds of lead, which is toxic to the human nervous system and poisons animals and micro-organisms. It’s widely known that cathode ray tubes in the monitor contain lead oxide and barium—in Massachusetts, monitors are banned from landfills, and six other states are considering similar legislation. But do you know that a circuit board contains lead and cadmium, and switches contain lead and mercury?

The Electronics Take It Back! Campaign is a collaborative nonprofit effort to encourage manufacturers to take responsibility for their electronic products from “cradle to grave,” so that they will have greater incentive to design safer, more durable, and easily recyclable products. In Europe and Japan, new legislation already holds producers financially responsible for proper recycling and disposal, which means that United States-based companies such as Apple and Dell offer better recycling services for their overseas customers. Stateside, Hewlett Packard and IBM are the only major computer manufacturers with a national takeback program, but they require consumers to pay a fee, while many overseas programs are free.

Participate in recycling programs

The Electronic Product Recovery and Recycling Project
Washington, DC
(202) 293-2270
Comprehensive listing of local and national recycling sources

Hewlett Packard’s Planet Partners Program
(208) 472-3494, option 4
$13 to $34 per item?(HP products only)

IBM PC Recycling Service
(888) 746-7426
$29.99 per computer (any manufacturer)

Make a charitable donation

Electronics Industries Alliance
(703) 907-7573
National database of reuse and recycling options

National Cristina Foundation
(203) 863-9100
Facilitates donations to people with special needs

Share the Technology
(856) 234-6156
Connects donors with needy organizations

Give your computer a long life

While it’s true that upgrading may cost more than buying new in today’s market, don’t upgrade unnecessarily. Practice preventive maintenance and servicing.

New life for old parts

Disassembled and separated computer parts have a future beyond the landfill if you dispose of old equipment responsibly.

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