A guide to how and where to dispose of your computer so it doesn't end up in a toxic dump.
To prevent your old electronics from being melted down over a rudimentary stove in Guiyu, China, or being tossed into a landfill in Lagos, Nigeria, you’ll want to choose a reputable recycler. Plenty of computer recyclers operate with transparency and environmental integrity. But in the absence of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for the industry, you have to ask hard questions and demand real answers.
You’ll want to ask what the recycler does with equipment, where it sends parts for materials recovery and what it does with usable machinery and components. A reputable recycler should be able to tell you where CRTs, metals and plastics are sent, and if the company exports or uses prison labor. The recycler should also be able to tell you how it handles data destruction. Also ask if the recycler or reuse organization wipes the hard drive for you and provides documentation that it has done so. Or can the recycler tell you how to do this before you let go of your equipment?
If you are donating your equipment to a reuse organization, ask if equipment is tested before it is passed on for donation and if the company only ships working equipment. Ask who their recipient organizations are. You want to make sure equipment is going directly to qualified recipients, not speculative brokers. This helps prevent the kind of dumping BAN witnessed in Nigeria. Also check out FreeGeek in Portland, Ore., which builds computers out of salvaged parts from donated equipment. Its Web site has links to other similar organizations.
If the answer to any of these questions is, “We don’t know,” or, “We can’t tell you,” you may want to send your equipment elsewhere, as any reputable recycler or reuse organization should be able to provide answers.
One of the easiest options is to use your computer manufacturer’s recycling program. Major manufacturers are acutely aware of the liabilities associated with not handling equipment properly and don’t want to be the subject of a muckraking exposi. Virtually all U.S. manufacturers’ take-back programs charge fees, and many require packing and shipping the equipment yourself. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, a good guide to responsible recycling, finds many of the manufacture take-back programs wanting and publishes a report card on the environmental effectiveness of most of them.
The Rethink Program hosted by eBay has a good computer recycling FAQ section and many useful links to recyclers, as do CompuMentor’s Tech Soup site and the EPA’s eCycling Web site. But be aware that the recyclers listed on these sites have not been vetted or approved by these organizations in any way. The public agency that handles garbage disposal and recycling in your region may also list electronics recyclers on a Web site but these lists are not vetted either. Tech Soup and Rethink both have links to data-wiping software.
The Basel Action Network Web site carries a list of electronics recyclers that have signed BAN’s stewardship pledge, under which recyclers agree not to export e-waste or add it to landfill, or use prison labor, and to document where equipment, parts and materials go. Its list includes recyclers in all parts of the U.S. The following links to select groups and manufacturers should help you find the best methods and places for recycling.
Government and nonprofit organizations U.S. EPA Plug-in to eCycling Northeast Recycling Council Northwest Product Stewardship Council Basel Action Network, Pledge Recyclers CompuMentor Goodwill Industries National Cristina Foundation eBay Rethink Program Electronic Industries Alliance International Association of Electronics Recyclers Manufacturers Apple Canon Dell Epson Gateway Hewlett-Packard IBM Lexmark Panasonic Sony Toshiba
Elizabeth Grossman is the author of "Watershed: The Undamming of America" and "Adventuring Along the Lewis and Clark Trail." Her new book, "High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health" will be published by Island Press in May. More Elizabeth Grossman.
More Related Stories
- Limbaugh: No one willing to impeach the first black president
- Tornado reduces Oklahoma City suburb to rubble
- Entire Midwest put on tornado warning
- Oregon senator proposes appeal to Monsanto Protection Act
- Supreme Court to rule on prayer at government meetings
- Beltway scandal machine breaks, knows nothing about America
- Gitmo hunger striker launches Twitter campaign
- "Hero" cop, honored by Obama, accused of double rape
- Father of gay high school student arrested for dating classmate speaks out
- Pentagon adviser pushed Anthrax drug, which his firm produced
- Conservatives A-OK with closeted Boy Scouts
- The new geography of poverty
- Promotion for NYPD cop who cost city $1.5m in settlements
- Obama to all-male university graduates: Be the best husband to "your boyfriend or partner"
- The truth in Kanye's anti-prison rap
- GOP attorney general candidate tried to force women to report miscarriages to police
- Chinese hackers resume attacks against U.S.
- Must-see morning clip: Facial recognition software identifies "faceprints"
- Georgian police slow to react to mob violence at gay rights march
- Xenophobia only benefits the 1 percent
- Syrian troops move into strategic, rebel-held town
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11