Q. I sell salvaged metal and recently acquired some used electronics: 30 computer monitors, a NiCad a power pack from a back up battery and some circuit boards. I know that these items have valuable metals inside that could be recycled, but how do I get them out so that I can sell them?
A. It does seem like something that ought to be a win-win situation: cash in the pocket and slimmer landfills, right? Unfortunately, dismantling electronics falls into the “don’t try this at home, kids” category. One of the reasons electronics recycling has become such a big concern is that properly dismantling these things — a process known a demanufacturing — is really labor intensive, explains Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition’s Lauren Ornelas. We’re talking acid baths to remove plastics from the metals, imploding glass cathode ray tubes, exposure to all sorts of toxic chemicals — stuff you really want to avoid unless you know what you’re doing.
Demanufacturing pays up to $30 an hour in the US, a fact that’s led many so-called recyclers to ship e-waste to developing countries with lax environmental standards (even more lax than ours), where pieces are often improperly dumped or inexpertly dismantled, to the detriment of both locals and the environment.
Sorry we don’t have better news for you on the financial front, but even though your electronics stash is unlikely to yield any cash, but there are loads of resources for donating and recycling electronics. Of course you could try to sell some of it on Craigslist, but you might have better luck with Freecycle, a message board where people with unwanted junk can find people nearby to take it away for free. Tennessee has lots of active Freecycling groups, so post a note and see how much you can give away. Or you could donate some of it to charity; eBay lists some major groups that accept donations.
Whatever you’re left with will need to be recycled by a reputable specialist — it’s illegal to dump electronics because of all environmentally hazardous stuff inside. Some computer companies have take-back programs with varying policies, which are listed by the Computer TakeBack Campaign, a coalition of environmental groups concerned with e-waste. The SVTC and the Basel Action Network, another non-profit concerned with e-waste, also provide lists of legit recyclers so if none of the other options work out, you can at least give that stuff a proper burial.
Story by Sarah Schmidt. This article originally appeared in Plenty in June 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.