Computer recycling


Many people ask ‘Can I recycle computers in my curbside recycling program?’.  It’s highly unlikely that your curbside recycling program accepts computers, even if it collects “scrap metal.” Computers are bulky and made up of multiple materials, so you’ll definitely want to check before putting them in the recycling bin. If your area offers bulky waste recycling, computers may be accepted, but it’s a good idea to verify that they’ll be responsibly recycled.  


What computer recycling certifications I should be asking about?  

One of the most common computer recycling certifications for North American recyclers is Sustainable Electronics Recycling International’s (SERI) R2 Standard. R2 (originally R2 Solutions) has been around since 2008, and focuses more on certifying the recycling process and data destruction. There are hundreds of computer recyclers that aren’t R2 certified, so beware!


What should I do before recycling computers?  

If not using an R2 Certified Recycler you definitely want to remove any personal data from your device before recycling. Make sure you transfer any data you do wish to keep, because once you hand over your device they are quickly broken down into their component parts.


Should I try to upgrade my computer instead of recycle?  

Upgrading or repairing your technology is definitely an eco-friendly option, but it’s not always available. If you have a PC running Windows Vista (or earlier), you will have a difficult time upgrading to the newer software, and your old software is no longer supported. This means you either need to recycle the old computer, or visit a computer repair business and ask for your motherboard to be upgraded so you can run the newest software. It’s usually cheaper to buy a new computer and recycle the old one.  


Is throwing away my computer against the law?

As of 2017, 25 (or half) of U.S. states require you to recycle some forms of electronics. Of those, 17 have banned them from landfills. While in many cases the laws cover only computer monitors (including laptops), the good news is that every time a new law is passed, recycling becomes that much easier for residents in that state. You’ll likely find your city or county offers computer recycling events at least once a year (usually around Earth Day on April 22).  


What should I do if I have a large number of computers to recycle?  

When you have one computer to recycle, a retailer or mail-back program may be most ideal. But if you have numerous machines, you should ask your office if it can plan a recycling drive. You can call an e-waste recycler to send a truck, promote the event to your neighboring businesses, and recycle all sorts of electronics at once. In many cases, the recycler will pick up your electronics at no charge if enough people participate.


 Once at end-of-life, used electronics will be broken down and the individual categories will be separated and accumulated until there is sufficient quantity for us to ship to one of our downstream vendors. Computers contain a host of easily harvested raw materials from steel to copper and aluminum. In addition, the 'chips' and circuit boards contain precious metals.


As part of our R2 Certification, we are required to completely erase any data on every data containing device. For most of our customers, this is a free service. Many of our commercial customers require a Certificate of Data Destruction which is official verification that the data had been wiped. As this involves a chain-of-custody and an assumption of liability, this is a chargeable service.


The computers in our possession are broken down into their component parts and sent to an audited downstream processor - steel, circuit boards, drives, and plastics make up the bulk of the weight.


Under R2, we are not permitted to resell anything unless it has been fully tested and found to be working. So, although a computer or laptop may not be working overall, it's processor or memory may be absolutely fine. Should these working components have a value greater than their scrap value we will remarket them as working items.


When it comes to recycling laptops, any laptop, it all adds up — recycling one million laptops saves enough energy to power 3,500 U.S. homes for an entire year, according to the EPA . Plus, the inside of your computer contains valuable metals like gold, si, ver and platinum that can be recovered and reused.


The easiest way to make sure your computer is properly recycled is to take it to a local retailer with a computer recycling program. Do make sure they are R2 Certified!


Before recycling your computer, here are a few preparation steps.  Remove all data  from your computer to prevent identity theft. You may want to back up important files on an external hard drive.  If you use R3Ewaste this step is not necessary as we wipe all data bearing devices as part of our R2 Certification. Unplug the computer peripherals (keyboard, speakers, etc.) from your desktop or laptop. You can likely recycle these parts as well using the same company where you take the machine, but consider reusing them or donating them since they won’t need a software upgrade to work on a new computer.  


For a laptop, flip it over and see if you can remove the battery. Many laptops use lithium-ion batteries, which require special transportation  for recycling, so this is especially important if using a manufacturer mail-back program.