Computer recycling is becoming more and more commonplace. The reason? It’s getting easier and easier.

Computers are highly complex machines that should not just be thrown away with dinner leftovers. They are made with heavy metals that are highly toxic in the environment.

When computers are destroyed or thrown away, these metals leach into the soil and atmosphere where they are absorbed by people and animals. Heavy metals cause chronic nervous system malfunctions, ranging from migraines to mental retardation. Many of the metals, like lead, have no way of escaping the body once absorbed.

Pretty scary stuff. So, why throw them out when it is becoming increasingly easier to recycle computers?

Indeed, computer recycling has gained momentum in the green movement. Many older computers are made with un-recycleable parts, and even those that are recyclable find their way into trash dumps.

According to the EPA, about 1.84 million tons of TVs, computers and cell phones were thrown out in 2007, compared to only 400,000 tons being recycled.

These numbers might be different if you could stick your PC in the recycling with old newspapers. Unfortunately, finding a new home for your machine isn’t that simple.

Manufacturers doing their part

Computer companies are doing their part to help us reuse. Acer, HP, Lenovo, Dell and Apple all have promised to eliminate polyvinyl plastic (PVC) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) from their new computers. This makes the products more eco-friendly and much easier to recycle.

The first step towards recycling is to check out Earth 911. The site has a ZIP code search function that finds nearby recycling programs for electronics.

If you want to send your computer directly back to the maker, look no further than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has a list of manufacturers' programs for taking back and recycling their used products, including computers.

Trade-in your computer

Furthermore, if you are strapped for cash and need to buy a new computer, use that old one to get a few bucks knocked off a newer model. Some companies, such as Gateway and HP, have trade-in programs. These allow you to trade in your old computer to get a discount on a new one. A quick warning: you will get nothing more than market value, which will barely cover the cost of a new mouse.

Donate your computer

Another option is donating your computer. Even for older models that still have PVCs and BFRs, many Goodwill stores have a free electronic drop-off program. The company works with Dell to revive computers left for dead and distributes them to community centers and schools.

In addition, organizations like FreeGeek build computers out of old parts, and would be happy to take some of yours.

If your computer is not quite dead, just outdated, there are many opportunities to find your machine a new home. Programs such as Close the Gap and World Computer Exchange collect computers and send them to Third World countries.

Computer art projects

For those Martha Stewart geeks out there, old computers can also be turned into great art projects. From turning the keyboard into a wallet to using the body as a mailbox, creative uses for dead and bulky desktops pop up every day. Old electronic parts are even being used in collages and sculptures.

Next time your computer shows signs of defeat, don’t think of it as the end. Consider all the wonderful ways to recycle the machine, and be (somewhat) grateful for the forced upgrade.

Got more tips for computer recycling and reuse? Leave them in the comments below.

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Recycle your old computer