America Recycles Day: Disposing of Old PCs Responsibly

Today is the 12th annual "America Recycles Day." While business and individuals are more environmentally conscious, and recycling in general has become much more mainstream, many still do not understand the effects of sending old computer equipment to a landfill, or what the alternatives are.

The day-long recycling awareness campaign is promoted by organizations including Waste Management, Pepsico, and the American Chemistry Council.

Computer hardware and gadgets evolve rapidly. Moore's Law suggests that computers double in processing power roughly every two years--making yesterday's cutting edge PC obsolete by today's standards and leading to tons of computer equipment to dispose of. You can't just throw out your old PC with the rest of your household trash, though. Computer equipment contains hazardous substances, such as lead, which can then leak into the soil at landfills and damage the environment.

Don't just throw out old PCs--donate or recycle obsolete technology.
Artwork: Chip Taylor
Governments around the world have recognized the danger of dumping computer equipment in landfills and have enacted various laws to restrict the use of hazardous materials. The European Union's RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) directive is perhaps the most well-known, but its intent is mirrored by similar legislation around the world. These regulations limit the materials that can be used to manufacture computer equipment, and in many cases also restrict how computer equipment can be disposed of.

There are basically three ways to get rid of old or obsolete computer equipment or other technology. You can sell it to recoup some of your investment in new technology. You can give it away or donate it to a worthy cause. Or, if all else fails you can responsibly dispose of it by properly recycling the equipment rather than simply pitching it.

Sadly, selling old computer equipment is often more effort than its worth for the small return you can get--even for relatively recent gadgets. The amount of money that can be fetched for yesterday's computer equipment may not be worth the effort of listing it, fielding calls and e-mails to find a buyer, and getting the equipment cleaned up and packaged to go to its new home.

Donating old computer equipment is a win-win. The computer equipment can go benefit a worthy cause, and rather than accepting pennies on the dollar trying to find a buyer, you can claim the full market value of the computer equipment as a charitable donation.

When all else fails, though, and you can't find a new home for your old equipment, there are a variety of services available to help properly dispose of and recycle old computer equipment. The United States Environment Protection Agency has online resources dedicated to eCycling, with links to help you find a local recycling program.

Do your part for the environment--both on America Recycles Day, and throughout the rest of the year. Recycle your paper, aluminum, glass, and plastic waste, and make sure you responsibly dispose of gadgets like old PCs that can damage the environment if dumped into a landfill.

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