You've finally decided that your old computer is a junker, so now you've replaced it, and you're wondering what, exactly, you should do with the abandoned equipment. This has become a growing problem all over the world, as proliferation of cheap personal computers in the late 1990s led to a profusion of electronic waste, also known as e-waste. E-waste can be extremely harmful for the environment, leading advocacy organizations to ask consumers to dispose of old electronics, including computers, very carefully.
Before delving into what to do with your old computer, it may help to briefly explain why e-waste is considered harmful. Your computer is made with a wide variety of components, many of which are toxic. When old computers are disposed of improperly, these substances can enter the environment, causing pollution and associated plant and animal death, along with birth defects. Many of these components are also produced in unsustainable ways, causing even more environmental harm. Because these components can be recovered and recycled, throwing out an old computer isn't only environmentally questionable, it also takes up valuable landfill space. As a result, many firms have started to offer computer recycling, allowing consumers to turn in their old computers so that they can be broken down into their various components, giving the construction materials a new lease on life.
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Recycling isn't a simple solution, however. Electronics recycling requires specialized equipment and highly trained staff, and not all recycling companies are run in environmentally sound ways. Some don't recover very many substances from old computers, for example, sticking with the most valuable components, while others use practices which can lead to pollution and health problems for their employees, such as breaking open screens with hammers to access the valuable metals inside. Worse still, some firms export their old electronics to the developing world, where they may be broken apart by untrained people, causing widespread pollution, health problems, and piles of waste, as documented in numerous journalistic exposés.
Given the above information, you can see why you need to think carefully when you get rid of an old computer. The first thing you should do is wipe your hard drive, ensuring that no personal data is stored on your computer. Next, you should contact the manufacturer. In many nations, electronics manufacturers are required to take back old products and recycle them, and they may be subject to oversight from third party organizations to ensure that this recycling is properly performed. In fact, you may have paid a recycling fee for this very purpose when you purchased your computer; the manufacturer may send you a postage paid container to send your computer back in.
If the manufacturer does not offer recycling, you can approach a local charity to see if the equipment is usable. Make sure to ask the charity about what it does with computers it doesn't want anymore, to ensure that it will be ethically handled. You can also contact your local waste management company or the city in which you live to find out about e-waste recycling days, during which crews will collect unwanted electronics for proper recycling. Ask about the firms they recycle with and the practices they use to ensure that your old computer will be disposed of properly.
Finally, you can bring your computer directly to a facility which handles e-waste. If you choose to do this, ask about the practices the firm uses, and what percentage of materials are typically recovered. If you can, visit the facility where manufacturing is performed, to assure yourself that the old computer will actually be recycled, and that this recycling will be done right.