Americans Want to Know: “How Do I Recycle My Computer?”

ewaste in brooklyn

Aluminum cans? Plastic bottles? Newspapers? Though recycling statistics show that we’ve still got some work to do on diverting wastes away from landfills, you’ve probably got a good idea of how to recycle these common household items. But what about computers and televisions? Paint? Used motor oil? Earth 911’s search statistics for 2009, released today, show that more Americans want to figure out what to do with these hazardous materials… besides tossing them in the trashcan or dumpster.

According to the report, searches for information are up on this flagship site for recycling info: Earth 911 saw a 12% increase in searches in 2009 compared to 2008, with an average of “almost 7000 daily inquiries.” Many of those people wanted to know how to dispose of home electronics responsibly: “Electronics” topped the list of categories searched by a pretty heavy margin, and computers, batteries, and televisions were the top three searches for product recycling. Electronics also won in a state-by-state breakdown: it was the top category search for every one of the top ten states from which queries came.

Computer recycling: a marketing opportunity?

This data’s interesting in and of itself, but I immediately thought that computer and electronics manufacturers might want to see this as further evidence that more Americans understand the risks posed by sending these products to landfills, and want better end-of-life options. Some companies are already on board here: Nokia, for instance, got a “Good” score for take-back policies and recycling information in the most recent version of Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics, and a handful of other companies (Dell, Apple, and Motorola, for instance) received “Partially Good” scores.

If consumers are searching for this information, wouldn’t offering better take-back provisions and recycling information help these companies grow their market share? Especially if it didn’t increase costs dramatically? And wouldn’t local recycling companies see an increase in business if they offered more convenient e-recycling options (I know it’s kind of a pain here…)?

Do you have access to good e-waste recycling? Let us know about it… and how you think it affects your behavior in this area. Clearly, people want these options…

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eoringel/ / CC BY 2.0

About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at
  • I drive my recycle to the county waste management facility every Saturday since my apartment complex does not provide recycling. They have a electronics drop-off that I’ve used a few times. Though this information was not easy to find online.

  • Just thought I’d add that there is now a single place online where everyone can go to find a good place to donate still useable 5 year old or newer computers. It’s the zipcode searchable listing of Community Microsoft Authorized Refurbishers at: http://www.techsoup.org/mar/marList.aspx

    There are now over 750 ‘Community MAR’ refurbishers in the US alone, and many hundreds more in over 70 countries. They all accept donated computers and supply the refurbed computers at low or no-cost to schools, nonprofit charities, and low-income families. A number of them are collecting computers for Haiti. They pass on end-of-life IT equipment and parts to proper electronics recyclers.

    At TechSoup we supply refurbished computers to nonprofits and libraries in the US based on that program thru our Refurbished Computer Initiative (RCI), which provides reliable, warrantied desktop and laptop computers at

    According to the US EPA and the environmental scientists at Ariz. State University, it’s roughly 20 to 25 times more beneficial environmentally to reuse computers than to recycle them at 3 to 5 years of age. For instance, donating just one desktop CPU for reuse is equivalent to taking 1/5 of a car off the road for a year according to the US EPA Electronics Environmental Benefits Calculator, which shows environmental savings for computer recycling and reuse in terms of energy, materials, CO2, toxic emissions etc.

    The calculator can be found at:
    http://eerc.ra.utk.edu/ccpct/eebc/eebc.html

    Jim Lynch
    TechSoup Global

  • @Derek — I think our recycling rates are still relatively low because many have to take the steps you describe… we only get so far by asking people to recycle because it’s the right thing to do… and something they should go out of their way to do.

    @Jim — Thanks for passing along this information… I met one of your folks (maybe you) a few years ago in New Orleans, and was (and am) really impressed with the work you do.

  • Dear Sustainablog:

    Thanks for asking and Beware! Many might not know that most (about 80%) of the so-called electronics recyclers out there, (including those listed on Earth-911’s list) are “fake” recyclers that simply take your old equipment, often with your environmental fee, and quickly export it to China, India, Vietnam or Nigeria where it is managed in horrific conditions by desperate workers without protections. Please see our films and CBS 60 Minutes, or Frontline Piece at our website http://www.e-Stewards.org. to see the horrible truth.

    Actually there is one list and only one list of recyclers, that will assure that your computer or TV or other electronic waste is not dumped in a developing country, not foisted on prison laborers, nor dumped in a municipal landfill or incinerator but is properly recycled or refurbished in developed countries with proper safeguards to protect human health and the environment. Please find the list of these industry leaders at http://www.e-Stewards.org.

    Jim Puckett
    Executive Director
    Basel Action Network

  • Sustainablog,

    You can always ask your electronics recycler for a tour (and find out who your city is contracting with!). If they have an empty warehouse, but claim to de-manufacture electronics, be very suspicious.

    Ask for shipping manifests. Do they refurbish? Check their references. Ask what they do with each component and where it goes. It should not go to non-OECD countries, period.

    Recycling is not free when it’s an old CRT, and you’ve got to vet those cities and events that take in free recycling. At CompuCycle, we’re committed to providing everything we can to ensure a transparent downstream. Check us out at http://compucycle.net.

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  • We have similar issues in the UK, householders aren’t aware of the risk when disposing of such equipment. From exportation of waste, identity theft of data to fly tipping, disposing of such equipment has its issues. Better education would mean disposing to licensed companies, that dont export, would mean more equipment is dealt with in an environmentally and ethical manner.

  • Ben

    There is a difference between “reusing” computers and “recycling” them. Reusing means refurbishing and continued use; recycling means destroying the computer and environmentally disposing of its materials.

    Many people unknowingly recycle their computers before their actual end-of-life. These computers could better be refurbished and reused.

    Before donating a computer to any organization, determine if they reuse or just recycle. And if they recycle, make sure they do it in an environmentally responsible manner.

    Free Geek has branches in a dozen cities and follows this model (www.FreeGeek.org).

  • I think local councils should be making more of a issue of IT, computer and weee recycling, the importance and what to do with it. If the message isn’t getting across now, it’s just going to get worse.

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  • We always knock off a few bucks for their old system when clients purchase a custom built system from us. We refurbish then donate.

    Computer Repair Service

  • USA are having the same issues with computer recyling as we are in the UK. Many people believe that if they put their old pc computers in a skip that is the end of it’s life. If not dealt with correctly that could be the first step on a long journey in a container.

  • Aside from computers, consumers should also look into recycling their mobile handsets. There are several organizations and websites today that give cash for phones. Better sell those old phones than accumulating clutter at home. Thanks for sharing!

  • It is good to hear we are going in the right direction, albeit slowly. I think these companies should look at the materials in a computer and recycle the precious metals. There has got to be a way for them to turn a profit and be responsible. There is about $3.00 worth of copper in old monitor or TV. Thanks for the info. I will visit your blog often.

  • I do think there needs to a sustained emphasis on recycling, with clear cut procedures to be followed therein and these need to disseminated all around, for recycling to have any scope for success.

  • The easiest thing to do is to take the computer to your local recycling facility; you can check your council’s website to find out where that is. You can also search on Safe PC Disposal – More to find local recycling centres.