The computer you're using at this very moment most likely contains toxic substances like lead, cadmium and mercury, which - when you inevitably need to upgrade to a new model — could end up leaking into landfills or dumped in the developing world. That's why computer recycling is so important.
Not only does the recycling of electronic waste, or e-waste, cut back on the amount of potentially harmful substances that are discarded each year, it also reclaims valuable materials that can be re-used, such as aluminum.
In a press release for America Recycles Day, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the General Services Administration note that Americans generate about 2.4 million tons of used electronics each year, and encourage us all to choose "eCycling" instead.
The eCycling program not only ensures that electronics recyclers are certified by third-party organizations like Responsible Recyclers or e-Stewards, it also supports local jobs. The GSA purchases products for the federal government and aims to ensure that all of these products are disposed of in a responsible manner. The program provides business to companies like Com2 Recycling Solutions, which has both R2 and e-Stewards certifications.
Uncertified recyclers may ship electronic waste overseas, where it is dumped in developing countries. These piles of e-waste not only leach harmful substances into the soil and water, but also affect the health of children who sort through it looking for material to sell.
Currently, there's no federal mandate to recycle e-waste, though many states have instituted mandatory electronics recycling programs. In 2009, just 25 percent of the electronics that required 'end-of-life-management' — i.e., disposal or recovery — ended up being recycled. It's largely left to the consumer to take the initiative.
So when you want to properly dispose of your own computer, how do you find a recycler that will make sure electronics don't harm environmental and human health? The EPA recommends that you choose one of the following computer recycling options:
Find a local program. There are several websites that provide information on electronics recyclers near you. EcoSquid will give you options to resell, recycle or donate new and used electronics and even earn cash for those that have value. Earth 911 is a great source of community-specific information on eCycling, and My Green Electronics will also provide a list of local opportunities to recycle or donate electronics. RecycleBank also has an electronic waste program, or you can go to a privately run program like Mail in Mobile.
Participate in manufacturer programs. Many electronics manufacturers now offer take-back programs for your old electronics, and some even accept electronics made by their competitors. Programs include Dell's RECONNECT and Recycling and Donation services, eBay's Rethink Initiative and Hewlett-Packard's Product Recycling and Trade-In programs. Apple also offers a recycling program that will give you an Apple gift card for your old device, if it has monetary value.
Bring it to a retailer. Best Buy offers consumer electronics recycling programs and will accept computers as well as cell phones, TVs and DVD players. Some electronics can be redeemed for gift cards. Office Depot has Tech Recycling Boxes, which cost $5 - $15, that can be filled with unwanted electronics and dropped off at any Office Depot store to be recycled.
If you do choose a local recycler, make sure they're certified. You can double-check their claims with R2 Solutions and e-Stewards certification agencies, and feel safe knowing that the electronics you're sending off really will be recycled in a responsible way rather than shipped to third world countries.
Editor’s note: Dell is a Mother Nature Network sponsor.