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Computer Recycling - Where Should Old Computers Go?

Computer Recycling - Where Should Old Computers Go? - PCSTATS
Price Check: $/£/€
Abstract: What are you going to do with the old computer or bits of now retired hardware?
Filed under: Editorial Published:  Author: 
External Mfg. Website: PCSTATS Feb 13 2007   D. Quinn  
Home > Reviews > Editorial > PCSTATS

Reconnecting: Fewer Hazardous Electronics - RoHS and WEEE

Given the growing awareness of our environment, a number of governments around the world have begun to adopt regulations restricting all aspects of a product's "life cycle". Europe appears to be leading the way with the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE) which severely restricts what is allowed into landfills, and the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS), designed to keep hazardous waste from ever entering the market in the first place. As a result of these new laws, many companies have sought out alternatives to lead based solder, and arsenic in their electronic components, as well as initiate take-back programs to keep their products out of the waste cycle when they are finally ready to be disposed of.

Obviously, such dramatic shifts in what can and cannot be used causes challenges. We are, after all questioning the validity of decades of engineering development. Materials like lead and arsenic were not chosen for their fresh minty flavour, no we use this stuff because it fulfills a technical role well. Companies are re-inventing tried-and-true techniques to conform to new standards, and the results are predictably unstable at first. As a result of the unavoidable learning curve, some industries remain exempt from the new environmental regulations. Most notable of these are the medical, aviation and military sectors, but exemptions are available to other industries as well. Exemptions are not however, meant to be permanent. As the technology develops and using more environmentally friendly materials becomes more commonplace, stability will improve and the exceptions will become fewer in number. The end goal is an abolishment of harmful waste entering the ecosystem.

Despite some shortcomings, legislation like RoHS and WEEE are an excellent step in the right direction toward a true product sustainability. The next step in terms of what the government can do is making companies responsible for their products from cradle to grave, thereby moving toward a "zero-waste" system. Or at least, a product cycle not dependent on a primary industry (mining for example). Some companies like Mercedes-Benz are ahead of the curve and have begun designing their products to be easily dismantled, with each piece bar coded to reflect the materials used in it's composition. In the long run, as legislation is refined, and acquisition of raw materials more expensive, business should begin to see post-consumer material as a valuable resource rather than a hassle to be externalized.

The Goal of Removing Hazardous Substances from Electronics - RoHS / WEEE

You may have started to notice a little garbage can with an X running through it on appearing on motherboards, videocards and other recent electronic products. It's a symbol used to represent Directive 2002/96/EC on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, but it's also generally associated with RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) compliance as well. The latter is a European Union initiative which targets hazardous materials in consumer electrical and electronics equipment.

RoHS aims to remove heavy metals used in electronic components like Lead, Mercury, Cadium, Hexavalent Chormium, PBB and PDBE. In order to comply with EU's RoHS legislation, all substances must either be removed or reduced to within maximum permitted levels. This applies to all electrical components that will be sold within the European Union, so as a by product most electronics headed for North America are now also made compliant.

RoHS was originally discussed in the European Union in July of 2003 and was introduced as law on July 1st 2006. Manufacturers caught putting non-compliant products onto the EU market will face stiff fines and have their products barred.

While manufacturers are primarily affected by RoHS, the law is also seeking to change how we as consumers handle our old electronics at the end of its life cycle. End users are advised to handle electronic waste as "hazardous waste", and dispose of old electronics through proper waste channels - not simply toss these items into the trash. It is no longer okay to just throw old computer gear into the dust bin, which subsequently get dumped in our land fills.

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Reconnecting with Local E-Waste Options

So now that you're stepping away from the garbage can, what can you do with that old computer?

The best option for disposal of anything is always reuse rather than recycling. Recycling requires much more energy, and the end product may be of a lower quality. So with that in mind, your best option for that old desktop machine is going to be a company that will refurbish it for resale or donation like Computers For Schools. Some companies might even pay for what you thought initially of as garbage!

If there doesn't appear to be any resellers in your area, there are numerous non-profit groups that will take your electronic donations and refurbish the stuff for charities. Reboot is pretty popular, and Charity Village has a long list of alternatives as well. There's also The National Christina Foundation in Connecticut and Share the Technology in New Jersey. Try Googling for "computer refurbish [city name]" for options available to you locally.

Some companies like IBM, HP and Apple have implemented "take-back" programs. These companies will arrange to dismantle and recycle your computer once you're finished with it. Programs like this are the direct result of new, stricter legislation in Europe and elsewhere in the world regarding the harmful chemicals found in virtually all electronic products to one degree or another.

The broken-beyond-repair things are a tougher sell with refurbishing companies, so it's always best to contact them in advance to see what they can use. In cases where your old junked computer really is just junk, what are your options?

Most urban centres and even many suburbs have a number of alternatives available to people looking to properly dispose of household hazardous e-waste - and if you check your by-laws most areas forbid disposal of it in the garbage. Some cities have a mobile "Toxic Taxi" that will come to your house and pick up the stuff for you, whereas most others run a central depot where you can safely deposit old electronic hardware and computers for recycling. For example in Toronto, Canada, the municipality runs special Environment Days throughout the summer where residents are welcome to drop off working and non-working electronics for reuse or recycling. Goodwill has partnered with the city for the collection of working electronics, while ADL Process handles the dismantling and recycling of the permanently broken hardware. Phones for Food is even there, collecting discarded cellular telephones and ink cartridges so it can use the money garnered from the recycling process to buy food for the local foodbank.

Whatever the program or incentive, the goal is to keep electronic waste from ending up in local landfills and redirect it to facilities where its resusable components are reclaimed, its hazardous materials disposed of properly, and it becomes a resource in some small way.

More Information

The important thing is to connect all the aspects of what's going on in the world. Understand what happens to something when it leaves your care and how that something might actually be affecting the world you live in. If you find the above topics interesting, or simply want more information regarding what you can do with your old electronics or computer hardware, here are some links to help you out:

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Contents of Article: PCSTATS
 Pg 1.  Computer Recycling - Where Should Old Computers Go?
 Pg 2.  — Reconnecting: Fewer Hazardous Electronics - RoHS and WEEE

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