What Really Happens When You Recycle Computers

The U.S. is one of the biggest generators of e-waste in the world and old computers make up a significant portion of it. (Image: Marcin Wichary via wikimedia  CC BY 2.0 )
The U.S. is one of the biggest generators of e-waste in the world and old computers make up a significant portion of it. (Image: Marcin Wichary via wikimedia CC BY 2.0 )

The U.S. is one of the biggest generators of e-waste in the world. Computer parts make up a significant portion of the e-waste. Rather than dump these machines somewhere else, computers should ideally be handed over to accredited recycling centers for proper disposal.

Benefits of recycling

Computers usually contain toxic materials like lead, cadmium, mercury, and so on. If they are dumped into landfills, these dangerous substances will leak into the soil, water, and atmosphere. If these toxic elements seep into groundwater, the population surrounding the landfill will eventually get poisoned. Local flora and fauna will also be negatively affected. Through recycling, such consequences can be avoided.

When you recycle a computer, you also cut down on the quantity of materials that are required to manufacture new components. As such, less of these need to be mined and processed, which also helps to keep the environment cleaner. For example, plastic from old computer cases can be recycled for a new case.

In some instances, the computers can be refurbished and given back to charitable organizations so that less fortunate folks can get one easily. This obviously is a far better moral choice than just dumping them. Plus, recycling computers also tends to support local jobs.

(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

In some instances, the computers can be refurbished and given back to charitable organizations. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

In the U.S., several organizations have collection programs where they will accept used computers. The “HP Planet Partners initiative run by Hewlett Packard is one such program. Active in over 74 nations, the company aims at recycling 1.2 million tons of hardware and supplies by 2025. At present, over 80 percent of HP’s ink cartridges and 100 percent of LaserJet toner cartridges are manufactured with recycled materials.

Process of recycling

In the first step, the recyclers collect unwanted computers and components from individuals and companies. The collected items are manually sorted by type before moving on to the next stages. For instance, computers with LED monitors are processed separately from those with CRT monitors. The sorted items are then tested for potential reusability. Parts that are found to be functional or at least in decent working condition will be refurbished or donated.

The remaining components will be taken apart by skilled personnel so that their utility is still maintained. The components that function in some way are sold to computer manufacturers for a low price. Items may be grouped according to the material majorly found in them, like ferrous, non-ferrous, plastic, and so on.

The remaining components will be taken apart by skilled personnel so that their utility is still maintained. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

The remaining components will be taken apart by skilled personnel so that their utility is still maintained. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

Dangerous components like rechargeable batteries may be sent to other recyclers specialized in their recycling or disposal. Hard drives are separated and shredded or crushed to ensure that any data left on the disks is permanently inaccessible. They may be processed into aluminum ingots that will be used in the automotive industry. However, it is advisable that you permanently delete all data from disks before giving them up for recycling.

Once the hazardous items are dealt with, the recycler will move on to shredding other components by their material type. These are then passed through a screening process where valuable items are removed. Smelting is used to extract metals like gold, silver, copper, etc., which are sold off separately. Whatever materials and components that remain from the process will be sent to secondary recyclers or raw material buyers who will reuse them to manufacture new products.

Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to our weekly email

Antarctic Ice May Not Contribute to Sea-Level Rise as Much as Predicted
Why Samsung Stopped Making Blu-Ray Players