Computer recycling or Electronic recycling is the recycling or reuse of computers or other electronics. It includes both finding another use for materials (such as donation to charity), and having systems dismantled in a manner that allows for the safe extraction of the constituent materials for reuse in other products (Dell XPS M1210 Battery) .
Reasons for recycling
Obsolete computers or other electronics are a valuable source for secondary raw materials, if treated properly; if not treated properly, they are a source of toxins and carcinogens. Rapid technology change, low initial cost, and even planned obsolescence have resulted in a fast-growing surplus of computer or other electronic components around the globe. Technical solutions are available, but in most cases a legal framework, a collection system, logistics, and other services need to be implemented before a technical solution can be applied (Dell Studio XPS 1340 Battery) .
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, an estimated 30 to 40 million surplus PCs, which it classifies under the term "hazardous household waste", will be ready for end-of-life management in each of the next few years. The U.S. National Safety Council estimates that 75% of all personal computers ever sold are now surplus electronics (Dell Studio XPS 1640 Battery) .
In 2007, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that more than 63 million computers in the U.S. were traded in for replacements—or they simply were discarded. Today 15 percent of electronic devices and equipment are recycled in the United States. Most electronic waste is sent to landfills or becomes incinerated, having a negative impact on the environment by releasing materials such as lead, mercury, or cadmium into the soil, groundwater, and atmosphere (Dell Vostro 1710 Battery) .
Many materials used in the construction of computer hardware can be recovered in the recycling process for use in future production. Reuse of tin, silicon, iron, aluminum, and a variety of plastics — all present in bulk in computers or other electronics — can reduce the costs of constructing new systems. In addition, components frequently contain copper, gold, and other materials valuable enough to reclaim in their own right (ASUS EEE PC900 battery) .
Computer components contain valuable elements and substances suitable for reclamation, including lead, copper, and gold. They also contain many toxic substances, such as dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), cadmium, chromium, radioactive 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) (Dell RM791 battery) .
A typical 15-inch computer monitor may contain 1.5 pounds of lead, but other monitors have been estimated as having up to 8 pounds of lead. Circuit boards contain considerable quantities of lead-tin solders and are even more likely to leach into groundwater or to create air pollution via incineration. Additionally, the processing required to reclaim the precious substances (including incineration and acid treatments) may release, generate, and synthesize further toxic byproducts (Sony VGP-BPS13 battery) .
A major computer or electronic recycling concern is export of waste to countries with lower environmental standards. 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 as "dumping grounds for e-waste".The high value of working and reusable laptops, computers, and components (e.g., RAM) can help pay the cost of transportation for a large number of worthless "commodities" (Sony VGP-BPL9 battery) .
Broken monitors, obsolete circuit boards, and short-circuited transistors are difficult to spot in a containerload of used electronics.
In Switzerland, the first electronic waste recycling system was implemented in 1991, beginning with collection of old refrigerators; over the years, all other electric and electronic devices were gradually added to the system. The established producer responsibility organization is SWICO, mainly handling information, communication, and organization technology (Sony VGP-BPL11 battery) .
The European Union implemented a similar system in February 2003, under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive, 2002/96/EC).
The United States Congress considers a number of electronic waste bills, including the National Computer Recycling Act introduced by Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA) (Sony VGP-BPL15 battery) .
Meanwhile, 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.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 (R-TX) as the first federal bill to address electronic waste directly (Dell Inspiron E1505 battery) .
Many states have introduced legislation concerning recycling and reuse of computers or computer parts or other electronics.Most American computer recycling legislation addresses it from within the larger electronic waste issue (Dell Latitude E6400 battery) .
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 (HP Pavilion dv6000 Battery) .
The recently passed Electronic Device Recycling Research and Development Act distributes grants to universities, government labs, and private industry for research in developing projects in line with e-waste recycling and refurbishment.
South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan require that sellers and manufacturers of electronics be responsible for recycling 75% of them (Sony Vaio VGN-FZ31S battery) .
Consumer recycling options include donating computers directly to organizations in need, sending devices directly back to their original manufacturers, or getting components to a convenient recycler or refurbisher. The Computer Takeback Campaign and the Tech Soup Donate Hardware List are resources for locating recyclers and refurbishers (Sony Vaio VGN-FZ31S battery) .
Consumer recycling includes a variety of donation options, such as charities which may offer tax benefits. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agencymaintains a list of donation options for American consumers.
When researching computer companies before a computer purchase, consumers can also find out if they offer recycling services. Most major computer manufacturers offer some form of recycling. At the user's request they may mail in their old computers, or arrange for pickup from the manufacturer (Hp pavilion dv6000 battery) .
Hewlett-Packard also offers free recycling, but only one of its "national" recycling programs is available nationally, rather than in one or two specific states. Hewlett-Packard also offers to pick up any computer product of any brand for a fee, and to offer a coupon against the purchase of future computers or components; it was the largest computer recycler in America in 2003, and it has recycled over 750 million pounds of electronic waste globally since 1995 (Sony VGN-FW11S Battery) .
It encourages the shared approach of collection points for consumers and recyclers to meet.
Manufacturers often offer a free replacement service when purchasing a new PC. Dell Computers and Apple Inc. will take back old products when one buys a new one. Both refurbish and resell their own computers with a one-year warranty (Sony VGP-BPS13A/B Battery) .
Many companies purchase and recycle all brands of working and broken laptops and notebook computers, whether from individuals or corporations. Building a market for recycling of desktop computers has proven more difficult than exchange programs for laptops, smartphones, and other smaller electronics.A basic business model is to provide a seller an instant online quote based on laptop characteristics, then to send a shipping label and prepaid box to the seller, to erase, reformat, and process the laptop, and to pay rapidly by check (Sony VGP-BPS13B/B Battery) .
A majority of these companies are also generalized electronic waste recyclers as well; organizations that recycle computers exclusively include Cash For Laptops, a laptop refurbisher in Nevada that claims to be the first to buy laptops online, in 2001.
Online auction at eBay is an alternative for consumers willing to resell for cash less fees, in a complicated, self-managed, competitive environment where paid listings might not sell (Toshiba Satellite P10 Battery) .
Craigslist can be similarly risky due to forgery scams and uncertainty.Bulk laptops at a recycling affiliate, broken down into Dell, Gateway Computers,Hewlett-Packard, Sony, and other.
Businesses seeking a cost-effective way to recycle large amounts of computer equipment responsibly face a more complicated process (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ210CE Battery) .
They also have the option of contacting the manufacturers and arranging recycling options. However, in cases where the computer equipment comes from a wide variety of manufacturers, it may be more efficient to hire a third-party contractor to handle the recycling arrangements.
Early pioneering efforts to e-waste
The first major publication to report the recycling of computers and electronic waste was published on the front page of the New York Times on April 14th 1993 by columnist Steve Lohr (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ38M Battery) .
See Professional IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) firms specialize in corporate computer disposal and recycling services in compliance with local laws and regulations and also offer secure data elimination services that comply with data erasure standards. Companies that specialize in data protection and green disposal processes dispose of both data and used equipment while at the same time employing strict procedures to help improve the environment. Some companies will pick up unwanted equipment from businesses, wipe the data clean from the systems, and provide an estimate of the product’s remaining value (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ31z Battery) .
For unwanted items that still have value, these firms will buy the excess IT hardware and sell refurbished products to those seeking more affordable options than buying new.
Corporations face risks both for incompletely destroyed data and for improperly disposed computers, and according to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, are liable for compliance with regulations even if the recycling process is outsourced. Companies can mitigate these risks by requiring waivers of liability, audit trails, certificates of data destruction, signed confidentiality agreements, and random audits of information security (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ31E Battery) .
The National Association of Information Destruction is an international trade association for data destruction providers.
Data security is an important part of computer recycling. Federal regulations mandate that there are no information security leaks in the lifecycle of secure data; this includes its destruction and recycling (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ31J Battery) .
There are a number of federal laws and regulations, including HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley, FACTA, GLB, which govern the data lifecycle and require that establishments with high and low-profile data keep their data secure.Recycling computers can be dangerous when handling sensitive data, specifically to businesses storing tax records or employee information. While most people will try to wipe their hard drives clean before disposing of their old computers, only 5 percent rely on an industry specialist or a third party to completely clean the system before it's disposed of according to anIBM survey (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ31M Battery) .
Industry standards recommend a 3X overwriting process for complete protection against retrieving confidential information. This means a hard drive must be wiped three times in order to ensure the data cannot be retrieved and possibly used by others.
Reasons to destroy and recycle securely
There are ways to ensure that not only hardware is destroyed but also the private data on the hard drive. Having customer data stolen, lost, or misplaced contributes to the ever growing number of people who are affected by identity theft, which can cause corporations to lose more than just money (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ31B Battery) .
The image of a company that holds secure data, such as banks, pharmaceuticals, and credit corporations is also at risk. If a company’s public image is hurt that could cause consumers to not use their services and could cost millions in business losses and positive public relation campaigns. The cost of data breaches "var[ies] widely ranging $90 to $305 per customer record, depending on whether the breach is “low-profile” or “high-profile” and the company is in a non-regulated or highly regulated area, such as banking (SONY VGP-BPS13 Battery) .”
There is also a major backlash from the consumer if there is a data breach in a company that is supposed to be trusted to protect their private information.
There are regulations that monitor the data security on end-of-life hardware. National Association for Information Destruction (NAID) “is the international trade association for companies providing information destruction services. Suppliers of products, equipment and services to destruction companies are also eligible for membership (Dell Precision M70 Battery) .
NAID's mission is to promote the information destruction industry and the standards and ethics of its member companies.” There are companies that follow the guidelines from NAID and also meet all Federal EPA and local DEP regulations.
The typical process for computer recycling aims to securely destroy hard drives while still recycling the byproduct. A typical process for effective computer recycling accomplishes the following (Acer Aspire One battery) :
- Receive hardware for destruction in locked and securely transported vehicles
- Shred hard drives
- Separate all aluminum from the waste metals with an electromagnet
- Collect and securely deliver the shredded remains to an aluminum recycling plant
- Mold the remaining hard drive parts into aluminum ingots (Toshiba Satellite L305 Battery)
The term e-cycling refers to the process of recycling the components or metals contained in used or discarded electronic equipment, otherwise known as electronic waste (e-waste). E-cyclable items include, but are not limited to: televisions, computers, microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners, telephones and cellular phones, stereos, and VCRs and DVDs. The need for e-cycling facilities has been increasing recently due to technology’s rapid rate of obsolescence (Toshiba Satellite M65 battery) .
Pros of e-cycling
Some people support e-cycling for ethical reasons. This stance can be traced to the fact that much of e-waste is dumped in developing countries, and people disagree with the environmental and human health hazards that this presents. As an example, groundwater has become so polluted in areas surrounding China’s landfills that water must be shipped in from 18 miles away (Toshiba Satellite T4900 Battery) .
By this token, e-cycling helps the environment by avoiding pollution and being a sustainable alternative to disposing of e-waste in landfills. Another benefit to e-cycling is that valuable materials are retrieved from e-waste that otherwise would have been thrown out. Supporters argue that e-cycling saves taxpayers money, as the financial responsibility would be shifted from the taxpayer to the manufacturers (Toshiba PA3399U-2BRS battery) .
In taking part in e-cycling, companies would be motivated to use fewer materials in the production process, create longer lasting products, and implement safer, more efficient recycling systems.
Criticisms of e-cycling
The critics of e-cycling are just as vocal as its advocates. According to the Reason Foundation, e-cycling will only raise the product and waste management costs of e-waste for consumers and limit innovation on the part of high-tech companies. They also believe that e-cycling facilities could unintentionally cause great harm to the environment. Additionally, critics claim that e-waste doesn’t occupy a significant portion of total waste (Dell Latitude E6400 battery) .
According to a European study, only 4% of waste is electronic. Another opposition to e-cycling is that many problems are posed in disassembly: the process is costly and dangerous because of the heavy metals of which the electronic products are composed, and as little as 1-5% of the original cost of materials can be retrieved. A final problem that people find is that identity fraud is all too common in regards to the disposal of electronic products (Toshiba Satellite A200 Battery) .
Where does e-waste really go?
A hefty criticism often lobbed at common recyclers is that people think that they are recycling their electronic waste, when in reality it is actually being exported to developing countries such as China, India, and Nigeria. It has been estimated that 90% of e-waste is not being recycled as promised. For instance, at free recycling drives, "recyclers" may not be staying true to their word but are selling e-waste overseas or to parts brokers. Studies indicate that 50-80% of the 300,000-400,000 tons of e-waste is being sent overseas, and that approximately 2 million tons per year go to U.S. landfills (Toshiba Satellite 1200 Battery) .
What's happening now: Policy issues and current efforts
Currently, pieces of government legislation and a number of grassroots efforts have contributed to the growth of e-cycling. The Electronic Waste Recycling Act was passed in California in 2003 . It requires that consumers pay an extra fee for certain types of electronics, and the collected money is then redistributed to recycling companies that are qualified to properly recycle these products (Toshiba NB100 Battery) .
It is the only state that legislates against e-waste through this kind of consumer fee, the other states' efforts focus on producer responsibility laws.
As of September, 2006, Dell developed the nation’s first completely-free recycling program, furthering the responsibilities that manufacturers are taking for e-cycling. Additional manufacturers and retailers such as Best Buy, Sony, and Samsung have also set up recycling programs (Toshiba Satellite M300 Battery) .
Another step being taken is the recyclers’ pledge of true stewardship, sponsored by the Computer TakeBack Campaign. It has been signed by numerous recyclers promising to recycle responsibly. Grassroots efforts have also played a big part in this issue, as they and other community organizations are being formed to help responsibly recycle e-waste. Other grassroots campaigns are Basel, the Computer TakeBack Campaign (co-coordinated by the Grassroots Recycling Network), and the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (Dell INSPIRON 1525 battery) .
Many people believe that the U.S. should be following the European Union model in regards to its management of e-waste. In this program, a directive forces manufacturers to take responsibility for e-cycling; it also demands manufacturers' mandatory take-back and places bans on exporting e-waste to developing countries. Another longer-term solution is for computers to be composed of less dangerous products (Dell Latitude D830 Battery) .
Electronic waste by country
Electronic waste is becoming an increasing part of the waste stream and efforts are being made to recycle and reduce this waste.
Nations that have signed and ratified,along with nations that have signed but have not ratified the agreement (Dell Inspiron Mini 10 Battery) .
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, usually known simply as the Basel Convention, is an international treaty that was designed to reduce the movements of hazardous waste between nations, and specifically to prevent transfer of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries (Dell Studio 1735 Battery) .
Of the 172 parties to the Convention, Afghanistan, Haiti, and the United States have signed the Convention but have not yet ratified it
For more details on this topic, see Waste legislation.
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) tends to support the repair and recycling trade (Dell Latitude D620 Battery) .
Mining to produce the same metals, to meet demand for finished products in the west, also occurs in the same countries, and UNCTAD has recommended that restrictions against recycling exports be balanced against the environmental costs of recovering those materials from mining. Hard rock mining produces 45% of all toxins produced by all industries in the United States.
Greenpeace contends that residue problems are so significant that the exports of all used electronics should be banned (SONY VAIO VGN-FZ150E Battery) .
Many Asian countries have legislated, or will do so, for electronic waste recycling.
South Korea, Japan and Taiwan ensure manufacturer responsibility by demanding that they recycle 75% of their annual production (Dell Studio 1555 Battery) .
Chinese laws are primarily concerned with eliminating the import of e-waste. China has ratified the Basel Convention as well as the Basel Ban Amendment, officially banning the import of e-waste. In October 2008, The Chinese State Council also approved a “draft regulation on the management of electronic waste.” This regulation is intended to promote the continued use of resources through recycling and to monitor the end-of-life treatment of electronics (Dell Latitude D610 Battery) .
Under the new regulations, recycling of electronics by the consumer is mandated. It also requires the recycling of unnecessary materials discarded in the manufacturing process.
Electronic waste has been on the agenda of the Australian Federal Government since the mid 1990s. The Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (now replaced by the Environment Protection and Heritage Council (EPHC)) was the first body to identify electrical and electronic waste as a concern (Dell Latitude E6400 battery) .
In 2002, the EPHC again declared that e-waste needed action. The Electrical Equipment Product Stewardship Sub-Group examined the issue and decided that computer and television waste were 'wastes of concern'. Since that time the television and computer industry has been working with the EPHC to identify a suitable way to manage end-of-life televisions and computers (Dell Inspiron 300M Battery) .
In November 2008 the EPHC committed to the development of a national solution to the issue of managing television and computer waste. This action culminated in the release of a package of documents designed to enable public consultation on the various options for managing end-of-life televisions and computers on 16 July 2009. The main document in the package is the Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement: Televisions and Computers (Dell Inspiron E1505 battery) .
The paper canvasses various options for managing end-of-life units and analyses the costs and benefits of each. The Consultation Paper does not have a preferred option. The preferred option will be developed by government through the public consultation process prior to the next meeting of the EPHC on 5 November 2009 in Perth where State and Federal Minister will adopt a position (Dell RM791 battery) .
A series of public meetings were held in Adelaide, Perth, Sydney and Melbourne to receive feedback to the government's proposals. The meetings occurred in late July and early August 2009.
Product Stewardship Australia (PSA)is a not-for-profit organisation established by the television industry in Australia to lead the way in developing recycling programs for e-waste in Australia, particularly televisions (Dell XPS M1530 battery) .
PSA works closely with both State and Federal Governments along with other industry associations to advance product stewardship in Australia. PSA has contributed to the development of the Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement on Televisions and Computers.
In February 2004, a fee similar to the one in California was added to the cost of purchasing new televisions, computers, and computer components in Alberta, the first of its kind in Canada (Dell XPS M2010 battery) .
Saskatchewan also implemented an electronics recycling fee in February 2007, followed by British Columbia in August 2007, Nova Scotia in February 2008,and Ontario in April 2009. In 2007, Manitoba issued the Proposed Electrical and Electronic Equipment Stewardship Regulation by which the sale of regulated products is forbidden unless covered by the stewardship program. "Products covered under this legislation include TVs, computers, laptops, and scanners (Dell Vostro 1000 battery) ."
Recycling regulation passed in Ontario in October 2004, requires producers to "either develop product stewardship plans or comply with a product stewardship program for specific products."
Some European countries implemented laws prohibiting the disposal of electronic waste in landfills in the 1990s. "This created an e-waste processing industry in Europe (HP Pavilion dv9000 battery) .”
In Switzerland, the first electronic waste recycling system was implemented in 1991, beginning with collection of old refrigerators. Over the years, all other electric and electronic devices were gradually been included in the system. Legislation followed in 1998, and since January 2005 it has been possible to return all electronic waste to the sales points and other collection points free of charge (Sony Vaio VGN-FZ61B battery) .
There are two established producer responsibility organizations: SWICO, mainly handling information, communication, and organization technology, and SENS, responsible for electrical appliances. The total amount of recycled electronic waste exceeds 10 kg per capita per year.
Additionally, the European Union has implemented several directives and regulations that place the responsibility for “recovery, reuse and recycling” on the manufacturer (Sony Vaio VGN-FZ18M battery) .
The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive), as it is often referred to, has now been transposed in national laws in all member countries of the European Union. It was designed to make equipment manufacturers financially or physically responsible for their equipment at the end of its life, under a policy known as Extended producer responsibility (EPR) (Sony VGN-FZ21M battery) .
"Users of electrical and electronic equipment from private households should have the possibility of returning WEEE at least free of charge", and manufacturers must dispose of it in an environmentally friendly manner, by ecological disposal, reuse, or refurbishment. EPR is seen as a useful policy as it internalizes the end-of-life costs and provided a competitive incentive for companies to design equipment with fewer costs and liabilities when it reached its end of life (Dell Precision M70 Battery) .
However, the application of the WEEE Directive has been criticized for implementing the EPR concept in a collective manner, and thereby losing the competitive incentive of individual manufacturers to be rewarded for their green design. Since August 13, 2005, electronics manufacturers have become financially responsible for compliance to the WEEE Directive. Under the directive, each country recycles at least 4 kg of electronic waste per capita per year (Dell XPS M1210 Battery) .
Furthermore, the Directive should “decrease e-waste and e-waste exports.” In December 2008 a draft revision to the Directive proposed a market-based goal of 65%, which is 22 kg per capita in the case of the United Kingdom. A decision on the proposed revisions could result in a new WEEE Directive by 2012.The Directive on the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (2002/95/EC), commonly referred to as the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS Directive), was also adopted in February 2003 by the European Union (Dell Vostro 1400 Battery) .
The RoHS Directive took effect on July 1, 2006, and is required to be enforced and become law in each member state. This directive restricts the use of six hazardous materials in the manufacture of various types of electronic and electrical equipment.
The Battery Directive enacted in 2006 regulates the manufacture, disposal and trade of batteries in the European Union (Dell Vostro A840 Battery).