Computer Recycling: A Golden Opportunity

by Nicola Temple on December 5, 2011

One of the challenges with computer recycling is that the various components are made of a variety of materials.

As these materials are disposed of or recycled in different ways, they need to be separated, which makes computer recycling labour intensive.

Luckily, computers contain lots of recoverable materials – including copper, silver, gold – that make recycling worthwhile.

In fact, according to one source, one metric ton of computer scrap contains more gold than 17 tons of gold ore.

This makes our old computers a valuable resource if kept out of the landfill.

Opportunity lost…

According to the US Environment Protection Agency, 62% of computers that had reached the end of their life in 2009 did not get recycled.

That’s over 29 million computers in the US alone that ended up in landfills. The recoverable materials they contained have no value in a landfill and are instead a toxic threat to the environment and human health.

There was a time when computer recycling was essentially unheard of. In fact, I’m pretty sure my Commodore 64 (yes, that’s how old I am) probably ended up in a landfill (possibly a museum).

However, those days are gone. Computer recycling is not only possible, it can also be profitable.

Microprocessors are as good as gold

A ton of old computers can turn into about $10,000 USD for a recycling facility. Microprocessors, in particular, are a profitable component as they are constructed of little more than gold and ceramic and are therefore relatively easy to recycle.

This video gives a very comprehensive view of how computers can be recycled and what some of the materials get turned into…including gold crowns (of the dental variety)!

Recycle responsibly

There has been enough news about e-waste being shipped to countries like China to make even the most responsible recycler wary of e-waste collection programs. So, how do you recycle your old computer responsibly?

First, you should be aware that many states have laws around electronics recycling so I recommend having a look at the National Center For Electronics Recycling to find the relevant laws for your state.

Second, if the computer is not too old and can be salvaged with some replacement components and refurbishment, consider donating it to a group that accepts these types of donations. You can find a listing near you using Earth911. Often a computer that you consider to be out of date or that is no longer meeting your needs can open new doors for someone else in need.

Third, if it is a Commodore 64 (just kidding) or is otherwise best used as a paperweight, then perhaps it is time for it to be recycled. The EPA recommends that you choose certified recyclers to ensure that your computer is recycled properly. They provide information about e-cycling in your region here.

computer recycling

Computer recycling enables valuable resources such as copper, silver, and gold to be harvest and turned into new products. CC image courtesy of Alby Headrick on Flickr.

I know I have harped on about this before in articles I’ve written, but it simply can’t be said enough. One of the best things you can do is reduce the amount of e-waste you generate each year by:

  • Purchasing a computer that can be upgraded so that you are upgrading a processor or hard-drive rather than an entire computer.
  • Look into repairing your computer rather than replacing.
  • Not giving into the latest marketing campaigns to upgrade to the next generation of computers.

That being said, sometimes the death of a computer is inevitable. However, hopefully now you won’t look at it as the old outdated, good-for-nothing hunk of junk that collects dust in the corner of your home office. But instead, as the gold-mine (almost literally) of resources that computer recycling offers.

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