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Computer Equipment Disposal - Recycle, Donate Or Do Nothing?

Sep 6, 2008
For the last couple of decades, the rapid advances in computing technology have given rise to a corresponding problem of computers becoming quickly obsolete. These days, any computer that is more than 3 years old will be noticeably slower in its performance than a computer that has been manufactured in the last few months. It has therefore become a fact of life in the information age that computers need to be updated on a regular basis in order to utilize the latest software and communications applications. This in turn has led to the problem of what one should do with the rapidly growing stockpile of old computers and other electronic equipment. A company or individual really has one of 3 choices: 1. Do nothing; 2 Donate or; 3. Recycle. This article will discuss each of the options in turn.

Before looking closely at the issue of computer equipment recycling, it is worthwhile noting why it so important to do something rather than nothing. Latest studies on the subject have concluded that only around 10-15% of old computer equipment is being recycled. The equipment that isn't being recycled is either being stored, gathering dust on the tops of cupboards or in garages, or even more perniciously is being disposed of in landfills.

Companies that are storing old computing equipment are entertaining a false economy. It is actually more expensive to continue to store old computers than it is to properly dispose of them - when you take into account the cost of storage space, the cost of securing old systems to comply with federal privacy laws and other associated administration costs. There are the also environmental concerns attached to the stockpiling of large quantities of obsolete computers. The systems can break down and leak hazardous materials into the air, soil and groundwater should they catch on fire or be subject to other natural disasters such as a floods.

The larger problem however, lies in disposing of this old computer equipment in a heedless fashion. Computer equipment that isn't taken care of by an authorized computer recycler is most likely to end up in landfills and become toxic computer waste. A computer is made up of plastic, ferrous metals, non-ferrous metals (lead, cadmium, antimony, beryllium, chromium and mercury), electronic boards (gold, palladium, silver and platinum) and glass - in short, materials (many of which are toxic) which don't break down naturally. A standard sized cathode ray tube (CRT) monitor contains more than two kilos of lead - the toxicity of which has been well known for centuries.

The best option when dealing with old computer equipment is to either donate it (computer hardware less than 5 years old can generally be donated) or to recycle it.

Individuals who are looking to recycle one or a few items of computer hardware will find that nearly all of the major computer manufacturers - Apple, Dell, Gateway, IBM, Lexmark, Hewlett Packard, Epson, NEC - are running some type of computer recycling program. These programs tend to involve the company taking back your old computer and disposing of it responsibly, at no extra cost to yourself, whenever you purchase a new computer from them.

For companies who are looking to dispose of large volumes of computer hardware (and other types of e-waste) they should really get in contact with an authorized computer recycler. The hallmark of the computer recycler's business model is that of responsible destruction. They will salvage all useful computer parts before breaking down what's left, safely removing all hazardous materials in the process. There will usually be a fee charged by these recyclers to accept old computer equipment (particularly when it comes to computer monitors) but the cost of disposal will be significantly less than the cost of not disposing of the computer hardware, both in terms of direct business costs and potential costs to the environment.
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