Recycling computers is an environmental essential. Most computer components — including the monitor, keyboard, and hard drive — contain heavy metals, like lead and cadmium, which can contaminate drinking water and wreak havoc on human health. Even if they didn’t threaten our well-being, trashed computers and other electronics are the fastest growing sector of the waste steam. We’re throwing way too many computers away.
It doesn’t need to be so. Many “broken” computers can be repaired to extend their life; even if the entire computer can’t be saved, many parts can be recovered and re-used in another machine. My point: Don’t trash your computer; recycle it. Here’s how:
CHECK WITH GREENPEACE
Every year, the nonprofit citizen’s group evaluates the efforts computer manufacturers are making to reduce the toxic chemicals in their products and increase recycling. Before you buy, review your options and pick the most environmentally friendly option that meets your computing needs.
GIVE IT BACK
HP has a trade-in program that accepts products from any manufacturer and gives you cash back when you purchase a new HP. Their recycling program accepts HP equipment for free, and other brands for a nominal fee. The company has earned the EPA SmartWay certification by reducing the fuel consumption, greenhouse gases and other air emissions of its surface transportation carriers. Take note: HP has recently fallen on the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics because the company says it will no longer honor a promise it made to eliminate PVC and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) from their products by the end of 2009.
Dell has partnered with Staples to accept Dell products for recycling at all their locations. Dell’s exchange and trade-in program buys back old models of all types of electronics, regardless of manufacturer, and gives Dell gift cards to the customer in return. Dell aims to reduce package size by 10% by 2012; achieve 75% curbside recyclability for packaging; and increase recycled content of laptop and desktop packaging 50%. (I recently bought the Dell Studio Hybrid, which uses 80% less energy than a standard desktop hard drive and came in minimum packaging.) However, like HP, the company has backtracked on its commitment to eliminate PVC and BFRs in all products by the end of 2009. In fact, Dell no longer has a timeline for eliminating these toxic substances – what’s it waiting for?
For any computer, search the corporate website for specific suggestions on how to recycle it.
Best Buy – Rather than hassle with a computer company, go to your nearest Best Buy. Why? “We’ll take just about anything electronic, including TVs, DVD players, computer monitors, cell phones and more. You can bring in up to two items a day, per household, and most things are absolutely free. However, there is a $10 charge for TVs 32″ and under, CRTs, monitors and laptops — but we’ll give you a $10 Best Buy gift card to offset that cost.” That’s a pretty good deal.
Goodwill – Businesses and consumers can donate computers to Goodwill for recycling. Check with your local Goodwill office before dropping equipment off.
EBay.com, CraigsList.com, and FreeCycle.org – These sites also enable you to sell, trade or donate your computer rather than toss it in the trash.
Earth911.com enables you to find more local computer recycling locations.
The National Cristina Foundation takes donated computers and matches them to charities, schools, and public agencies in need throughout the US and Canada.
Gazelle will pay you to recycle your e-waste. Gazelle shows you how much your product is worth, sends you a box for free shipping, and upon receiving your product (assuming it is in proper condition), will mail you a check for its value.
BUY A SAFER COMPUTER
Apple is the only computer company among the top five that has freed its products of PVC and BFRs. With the exception of PVC-free power cords, which they are working to certify, this is Apple’s greenest accomplishment. Apple recycles electronics for all customers who purchase a new Apple or Mac product from any of their online or retail stores. Once purchased, you receive a voucher for shipping any old electronic (regardless of brand) via FedEx. Fewer restrictions apply to educational or business customers, and for those recycling iPods and cell phones, none of whom have to buy a new product as a prerequisite to their recycling. There are no drop-off sites for e-recycling at any Apple stores.
How about a little more info?
Don’t miss this additional information on the environmental impacts of electronics.
Research by Katie Kelleher