Recycling your old Mac and other E-Waste

Once your computer gets old and its upgrade time, what do you do with your old machine? You definitely don’t want it sitting in your basement for the next 30 years. Tossing it in a dumpster is out, its an environmental hazard and illegal in many states. You need to get rid of it, but how?

What do you do with your old e-junk that you can’t throw away?

The Problem with E-Waste:

Old computers, cell phones, televisions, electronics, batteries and anything with a circuit board is “E-Waste” and it can’t just be thrown in the trash.

When you throw something away, trash gets carted away to a landfill where it pretty much sits in a gigantic pile. Then it gets rained and snowed on. Occasionally a bulldozer might push it around and put dirt on top of it. It basically sits in a place and rots. Sorry if you thought there was more to the magic of the garbage man.

Once in a landfill, between baking in the sun, and rain running over it, your E-Waste begins to break down and it’s not pretty. There’s some seriously toxic materials inside your old computer, or gadgets. Materials like mercury, lead, cadmium, lithium, brominated flame retardants, phosphorous coatings, and PVC plastics are plentiful in electronic trash. If left out in landfills, they leech out into the groundwater causing serious pollution.

So it can’t just be tossed. It has to be recycled where the materials can be extracted and re-used to make new gadgets.

The Problem with E-Recycling:

If you’ve ever tried to actually get rid of a bunch of old computers, gadgets, batteries and assorted crap you’ve probably figured out the problem with recycling E-Waste:

Where are all the recyclers?

Finding a recycler isn’t easy. You’d think that if a state is going to make laws banning the disposal of E-Waste, they’d set up some sort of recycling program. Depending on your state, they may have left that one for someone else to figure out. Sometimes finding one isn’t easy.

Say you’ve found a recycler that will take your E-Waste, good for you. Until you find out that they want to charge you for it.

It’s not a free service?

Extracting the toxic materials from E-Waste is actually expensive to do. Its a bit more intensive than what happens to your soda cans and newspapers. The cost of the recycling process, and transportation is less than the value of the materials they extract. Remember, E-Waste contains toxic materials, but they are in small, labor intensive amounts. That’s why sometimes there’s a charge.

Reputable recyclers?

The fact that E-Waste is expensive to recycle brings us to another huge problem. Some recyclers like to cut corners. Instead of doing the recycling themselves in an environmentally sound way, they basically collect your junk and ship it off to China or India where environmental laws are much, much, much more lenient.

Here’s a few scenes of E-Waste being recycled the non-reputable way.

Sounds like E-Waste is a real problem.. It is.

What can you do with your E-Junk?

If by “junk” you mean a laptop that’s 2 years old, a cellphone with a few years of life left on it, or something that still has a reasonable value – Sell it on Craigslist or eBay. If you’re replacing a computer, see if the manufacturer will take your older model away for free. Apple has a great Recycling Program if you buy a new model and a pretty decent reputation for environmental practices.

You can try repurposing your old machine as something else. Older machines make great file servers, video servers, and media centers. Donate your machine to a local charity or school. Not everyone can afford a decent computer. Just remember that when donating, donate something useful, not an obsolete 12 year old iBook.

If you’re going to recycle, look into your town’s department of public works, sanitation, or whichever department runs your town’s trash program. Many times they have recycling drives – usually once or twice a year. You can unload your junk with them. If you’re concerned about the quality of recycler, try to find out who they use and investigate. You want to use a recycler who agrees with the Basel Action Network‘s e-Stewards program.

Here’s a good place to start when looking for a responsible recycler. Also, Best Buy and Staples have good E-Waste recycling programs.

Don’t forget, one last detail!

Be sure to securely wipe all data off your computer’s hard drive, memory cards, SIM cards, phone memory, flash media or anything that would contain personal or sensitive data!

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