How to Recycle Computers, Laptops and Monitors

An Overview on Recycling Computers, Laptops and Monitors

What’s your e-waste recycling conundrum? Time to get a new computer? Looking for a monitor recycling solution so you can replace your old CRT? Need a laptop recycling center close by? Regardless of what computer recycling challenge you’re trying to solve, you’ll find the answers here so that you can help prevent environmental problems like these:

  • The recycling rate for obsolete computers is only 10% in the US.[1]
  • Most computers last on average only 3 to 5 years, a length that is getting shorter all of the time as advances are made more quickly by computer manufacturers.[2]
  • Computers consist of many types of materials, including plastic, glass, metal, and many harmful chemicals and heavy metals (like mercury, cadmium, and lead). Computer monitors (old-style CRTs in particular) can contain as much as 27% lead, while other electronics contain mercury and cadmium.[3]
  • Almost all computers contain brominated flame retardants (BFRs) which are serious environmental hazards.[4]

How to recycle your old computer, monitor, and other peripherals

Finding peripheral, laptop, and monitor recycling companies is relatively simple today given the number of municipal, retail, nonprofit, and for-profit recycling programs around.

  • Repair or upgrade first:Sometimes we’re too quick to want to recycle old computers and accessories when a quick repair or upgrade will give you a great working electronic with a lower cost and less e-waste. Many retail tech shops can help you determine whether this is a good idea, including Apple Genius Bars, Best Buy Geek Squads, and Staples EasyTech.
  • Evaluate whether to donate or recycle:Not sure which is the better option? This Used Computer Evaluator should help. Then check out these Federal Electronics Challenge Reuse and Donation guides to help you determine whether donating or recycling is the best choice.
  • Remove your personal data: Regardless of whether you choose to donate or recycle your e-waste, be sure to clean your hard drive of all your personal files and information to protect your privacy before donating or recycling your old machine. While smashing may be effective, it can result in polluting your home and your body with toxic chemicals. Here are some free and fee-based programs you can use for this purpose:

Donate computers and accessories

When you’ve got electronics that still work well but are no longer suiting your needs, donating them is the most eco-friendly way to go as it will extend the life of the materials. Whatever you do, don’t wait! The more time passes, the more out of date your electronics become, making them less and less useful. You may want to check out how much your computer is worth before donating it using the Used Computer Evaluator - this can help when looking for a charitable receipt for your gift. Then see our list of charities that will accept old computers and accessories for your reference.

Computer/laptop, accessories, and monitor recycling

Recycling computers, monitors, laptops, mice, keyboards, and more should be your last line of defense in order to prevent useful materials from ending up in the landfill where they’ll do no one any good.

  • Take-back programs: Check out our list of manufacturer take-back programs to see whether your product can be mailed back. This is the best recycling option because it puts the onus of recycling on those that make it which should encourage them to make durable, easily recyclable products.
  • E-waste recycling collection sites: Your municipal solid waste office may have already established a program to keep e-waste out of landfills. Ask them if they have computer recycling centers to find the best option in your region.

Fair and sustainable e-waste recyclers

As with any e-waste challenge, you’ll want to choose an ethical recycler that promotes safe and fair methods for recycling your electronic waste. The bulk of all e-waste is sent overseas where the components are dismantled (sometimes smashed apart) by people (often children) without proper personal protection making less than 25 cents an hour.[5] Without safe disposal regulations, these countries are often saddled with the toxic burden that comes with electronics recycling. To ensure that you’re not contributing to overseas pollution problems, look for recyclers that use responsible recycling methods.

  • The Basel Action Network (BAN) is an international environmental organization working to reduce toxic manufacturing and disposal. 
  • Alternatively, you can ask any potential recyclers a series of questions to determine whether they use safe and fair e-waste handling methods. Check out E-cycling Central’s list of questions.





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References

1 Consumer's Guide to Electronics Recycling. (n.d.). Retrieved June 29, 2010, from Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition: http://svtc.svtc.org/site/PageServer?pagename=svtc_electronic_recycling

2 Electronics Reuse and Recycling. (2000, October). Retrieved June 29, 2010, from US Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/wastes/partnerships/wastewise/pubs/wwupda14.pdf

3 (Electronics Reuse and Recycling, 2000)

4 EU Legislators Advise Review of PVC, BFR Use in Electronics. (2010, June 2). Retrieved June 29, 2010, from PCWorld: http://www.pcworld.com/article/197794/eu_legislators_advise_review_of_pvc_bfr_use_in_electronics.html

5 E-Waste & Recycling Laws - Protecting Taxpayers, our Environment and Public Health while Creating an Incentive for Greener Design. (n.d.). Retrieved June 29, 2010, from Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition: http://svtc.svtc.org/site/PageServer?pagename=svtc_ewaste_and_recycling_policy

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