by Tim Grier, CET Computer Magician
Mooresville, North Carolina
Since the beginning of the information age, computers and the other related electronic digital equipment have become a big part of our daily and business lives. As the demands for technology become greater, more recent and up-to-date technology equipment needs are rising. Just like your ’82 Oldsmobile Delta 88, electronic digital equipment such as computers and monitors quickly need replacement to handle the demands of new programs and business applications.
The big problem is how we dispose of our old computer equipment. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 250 million computers in the United States alone will become obsolete within the next five years and records show that, in 2001, only 11% of retired computers were recycled – 89% were sent to our landfills where they are today. We have to do better and every user needs to know where to dispose of the old equipment. Computers, monitors, and batteries cannot continue to be placed in the trash to be sent to the local landfill because they are an environmental hazard. They must be disposed of properly.
There are companies in just about every area of the world that will sort the components by their individual type and the break down the equipment for recycling. If there is not a local governmental designated computer/electronic component recycling center, find a local company that will help with this process. This will help reduce business/personal liability, provide for data destruction, and is a much easier method of disposal. If there are no local recycling companies in the immediate area, visit www.google.com to locate a recycling company that might be able to pick up your equipment for a small fee.
Computers age and become obsolete very rapidly. A five year old computer is often equated with a 20 year old automobile and therefore, computers are being replaced on a daily basis. From a business point of view, it is important and cost effective to be able to recycle the computer in its entirety.
The first part of the computer that can be recycled is the case. The case can be sold back to the manufacturer, through a third party, for use in the production of new computers by melting down the old metal to be used in the new cases. Most computers are made with many types of precious metals, including gold, copper, and silver, attached to the circuit boards which can be recovered and reused by the manufacturer as well.
Additionally, the hard drive can be recycled or reused. However, before recycling or destroying the hard drive, it is important to first completely erase or physically destroy the space in which the data is stored on the hard drive. Identity thief is a serious issue and data on old hard drives can be used by criminals to steal from you or your customers.
The computer monitor is the most difficult to dispose of environmentally. Most old monitors contain CRTs (Cathode Ray Tubes) which have dangerous chemicals within them. A CRT may contain mercury, cadmium, phosphorous, barium and, in excess of, four to five pounds of lead. While these chemicals are safe inside the vacuum-sealed cathode ray tube, in the landfill the monitor would be crushed exposing the soil to the dangerous elements. To prevent any type of environmental destruction, such as groundwater contamination, proper disposal of or the recycling of old CRT monitors is essential.
Batteries are used to maintain the data in the CMOS chips and to supply power to remote controls, portable devices, and laptops. These batteries contain a number of dangerous compounds including lithium, lead, nickel metal hydride, and nickel cadmium. The disposal of batteries is one of the most crucial parts of the computer disposal process. There are specific guidelines that have to be followed for battery disposal and it is important to read the manufacturer’s guidelines located in the documentation that came with the equipment or on the manufacturer’s website.
The most easily recycled component is the printer toner cartridge – and it can even be profitable. Laser printer toner is made of fine particles of iron and plastic that can cause problems in the environment especially when exposed to the extreme heat in incinerators. Additionally, the residual chemicals used in toner cartridges can do severe damage when left in landfills. Today, many computer manufacturers will pay you for empty toner cartridges or give you a credit towards the purchase of new ones. Check with your local computer resellers for options on recycling toner cartridges. Some school programs collect recycled printer cartridges as a fundraiser.
Keyboards, mice, drives, power supplies, and other peripherals take up huge amounts of space in our landfills. The plastics and metals that make up these components, although they may not be considered dangerous, do not decompose well and remain in landfills for a very long time. Try to use these components with your new computer. Purchase a computer without a keyboard or mouse and use your old one.
Each company that uses computer equipment should keep an MSDS (Materials Safety Data Sheet) to reference the potentially hazardous materials contained in the components such as the monitor or batteries. It should include the date of purchase, location of such equipment, and method of disposal (include company name, address, and phone number).
Another option before throwing computer equipment away is to first find out if you can donate the equipment. There will always be somebody who is looking for a computer. Companies such as Kramden Institutes and QTL are always working to put computers in the hands of individuals, small businesses, charitable, and educational institutions that need them.
CompTIA A+ Certification 202-601 Book, ISBN 1-4239-5440-8 (2006), ILT Series Thompson Course Technology.
Ryan, Dave. “7th Annual Kick-off for America Recycles Day.” EPA Newsroom 14 11 2003 12 03 2007