Disposing of E-waste

Computers have become indispensable -- and in their early years, were virtually un-disposable. Most computers contain rare metals and specialized chemicals that are difficult to recycle. Thankfully, a growing number of programs are available for recycling various types of environmentally hazardous electronic waste, and for extending the life of used computer components.

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates 1.84 million tons of TVs, computers and cell phones were trashed in 2007, compared to the 400,000 tons of electronics that were actually recycled. Be part of the winning team -- add your computer to the recycled tally.

Here is a guide to recycling used computer parts and reusing outdated gadgets.

New Life for an Old Computer

Consider finding a new home for the computer or its individual parts once you are no longer using it. Schools and non-profit groups may not care if the hard drive is slow or the operating system is obsolete.

First, whether recycling a computer or donating it for reuse, be sure to erase all personal information and data. Several options are available for each operating system. Here is a good CNET video that explains the reasons and the process for wiping the hard drive.

Most Goodwill stores offer free electronics dropoffs. Goodwill works with Dell Computers to revive dead computers and get them into schools or community centers. Other organizations, including Close the Gap and World Computer Exchange, collect computers and send them to needy youth in developing countries.

Computer Recycling

If computer parts are truly dead and unusable, don't just put them in the trash -- or the recycling bin. E-waste disposal is more specialized, but recycling programs are available in many communities. Earth 911 has a ZIP code search function to help you find recycling programs in your area. The federal Environmental Protection Agency also has a list of manufacturers' programs for taking back and recycling their used products.

Computer parts can become toxic e-waste in a landfill, but there are plenty of alternatives. Consider donating old computers for reuse, and recycling machines that are completely dead. Also look for eco-friendly options when buying a replacement computer.

Updated September 6, 2018.

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