What is Computer Recycling?

Why Computer Recycling is important?

Computer recyclingelectronic recycling or e-waste recycling is the disassembly and separation of components and raw materials of waste electronics. Although the procedures of re-use, donation and repair are not strictly recycling, these are other common sustainable ways to dispose of IT waste.

In 2009, 38% of computers and a quarter of total electronic waste was recycled in the United States, 5% and 3% up from 3 years prior respectively.[2] Since its inception in the early 1990s, more and more devices are recycled worldwide due to increased awareness and investment. Electronic recycling occurs primarily in order to recover valuable rare earth metals and precious metals, which are in short supply, as well as plastics and metals. These are resold or used in new devices after purification, in effect creating a circular economy. Such processes involve specialised facilities and premises, but within the home or ordinary workplace, sound components of damaged or obsolete computers can often be reused, reducing replacement costs.

Recycling is considered environmentally friendly because it prevents hazardous waste, including heavy metals and carcinogens, from entering the atmosphere, landfill or waterways. While electronics consist a small fraction of total waste generated, they are far more dangerous. There is stringent legislation designed to enforce and encourage the sustainable disposal of appliances, the most notable being the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive of the European Union and the United States National Computer Recycling Act.

Reasons for recycling

Obsolete computers and old electronics are valuable sources for secondary raw materials if recycled; otherwise, these devices are a source of toxins and carcinogens. Rapid technology change, low initial cost, and planned obsolescence have resulted in a fast-growing surplus of computers and other electronic components around the globe. Technical solutions are available, but in most cases a legal framework, collection system, logistics, and other services need to be implemented before applying a technical solution. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, estimates 30 to 40 million surplus PCs, classified as “hazardous household waste”,[4] would be ready for end-of-life management in the next few years. The U.S. National Safety Council estimates that 75% of all personal computers ever sold are now surplus electronics.[5]

In 2007, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stated that more than 63 million computers in the U.S. were traded in for replacements or discarded. Today, 15% of electronic devices and equipment are recycled in the United States. Most electronic waste is sent to landfills or incinerated, which releases materials such as lead, mercury, or cadmium into the soil, groundwater, and atmosphere, thus having a negative impact on the environment.

Many materials used in computer hardware can be recovered by recycling for use in future production. Reuse of tinsiliconironaluminium, and a variety of plastics that are present in bulk in computers or other electronics can reduce the costs of constructing new systems. Components frequently contain coppergoldtantalum,[6][7] silverplatinumpalladium, and lead as well as other valuable materials suitable for reclamation.[8][9]

Computer components contain many toxic substances, like dioxinspolychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), cadmiumchromiumradioactive isotopes and mercury. A typical computer monitor may contain more than 6% lead by weight, much of which is in the lead glass of the cathode ray tube (CRT). A typical 15 inch (38 cm) computer monitor may contain 1.5 pounds (1 kg) of lead but other monitors have been estimated to have up to 8 pounds (4 kg) of lead Circuit boards contain considerable quantities of lead-tin solders that are more likely to leach into groundwater or create air pollution due to incineration. In US landfills, about 40% of the lead content levels are from e-waste The processing (e.g. incineration and acid treatments) required to reclaim these precious substances may release, generate, or synthesize toxic byproducts.

Export of waste to countries with lower environmental standards is a major concern. The Basel Convention includes hazardous wastes such as, but not limited to, CRT screens as an item that may not be exported transcontinentally without prior consent of both the country exporting and receiving the waste. Companies may find it cost-effective in the short term to sell outdated computers to less developed countries with lax regulations. It is commonly believed that a majority of surplus laptops are routed to developing nations. The high value of working and reusable laptops, computers, and components (e.g. RAM) can help pay the cost of transportation for many worthless commodities. Laws governing the exportation of waste electronics are put in place to govern recycling companies in developed countries which ship waste to Third World countries. However, concerns about the impact of e-recycling on human health, the health of recycling workers and environmental degradation remain.[12] For example, due to the lack of strict regulations in developing countries, sometimes workers smash old products, propelling toxins on to the ground, contaminating the soil and putting those who do not wear shoes in danger. Other procedures include burning away wire insulation and acid baths to resell circuit boards. These methods pose environmental and health hazards, as toxins are released into the air and acid bath residue can enter the water supply

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Recycling Regulations:

United States


The United States Congress considers a number of electronic waste bills, like the National Computer Recycling Act introduced by Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA). The main federal law governing solid waste is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976. It covers only CRTs, though state regulations may differ.[15] There are also separate laws concerning battery disposal. On March 25, 2009, the House Science and Technology Committee approved funding for research on reducing electronic waste and mitigating environmental impact, regarded by sponsor Ralph Hall (RTX) as the first federal bill to directly address electronic waste.[16]


Many states have introduced legislation concerning recycling and reuse of computers or computer parts or other electronics.[17] Most American computer recycling legislations address it from within the larger electronic waste issue.

In 2001, Arkansas enacted the Arkansas Computer and Electronic Solid Waste Management Act, which requires that state agencies manage and sell surplus computer equipment, establishes a computer and electronics recycling fund, and authorizes the Department of Environmental Quality to regulate and/or ban the disposal of computer and electronic equipment in Arkansas landfills.[18]

The recently passed Electronic Device Recycling Research and Development Act distributes grants to universities, government labs and private industries for research in developing projects in line with e-waste recycling and refurbishment.

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