Second Choice: Recycle
If electronic equipment is too old to be reused or is broken beyond repair, you may send it to one of the many companies that specialize in disassembling electronics, salvaging parts, and selling reclaimed materials. Many types of electronic equipment, such as computers, monitors, printers, and scanners, contain materials suitable for reclamation and use in new products. These materials include plastic, glass, steel, aluminum, copper, gold, silver, and other metals. Since electronics recycling operations typically require a mix of automated processing and manual labor, both of which have costs, there may be a charge associated with recycling your computer.
Before choosing a recycler, check to make sure that the firm meets all applicable state and local regulatory requirements and that it properly manages the recovered materials. To find out more about the regulations that apply in your state, you should contact the environmental agency in your state. You can find these listings at http://nrcrecycles.org/ or http://1800recycling.com/.
Some communities have ongoing programs to collect electronic equipment from their residents, while other communities sponsor collection events during the year. Depending on the collection, some communities will accept materials from both households and businesses. Visit the NRC website to find out if an electronics recycling collection event is scheduled in your community.
Find a Recycler in Your Area
Many states maintain a database of electronics recyclers and local municipal/residential programs in the United States. The database is available on the NRC website and may be searched by state.
If you own a computer, ask the manufacturer or the retailer that you purchased the computer from to take the computer back. A small, but increasing number of computer manufacturers are providing this service for households. Take back and asset management services are already available for large purchasers of computer equipment.
Questions to Consider
Whether you are an individual with a single item or a small business with many different types of electronics, you should ask a reuse organization or a recycler questions about what will happen to your electronic equipment. The following are some questions to consider when selecting an electronics reuse or recycling organization:
What does the organization do with the electronic equipment it receives? Does it refurbish the equipment and sell it to another user? Does it dismantle the equipment and sell the disk drives, memory chips, and other components? Does it send materials to a metals reclamation plant or smelter? Does it process the plastic, metal, and glass for shipment to other companies that use the materials to produce recycled products?
How much of the equipment does the organization send to disposal (landfill or incinerator)? If some material is sent to disposal, who is responsible for paying related transportation and disposal costs?
If donated, does the organization provide you with documentation of your donation, so that you may apply it toward your federal tax return?
Does the organization have the necessary state and local permits or otherwise meets the relevant state and federal requirements for transporting and handling hazardous materials and end-of-life electronic equipment?
For small businesses: Does the organization provide you with a complete inventory of the equipment you are sending to be recycled, including property tags? Does the organization provide a certificate that indicates how much material was received and how it was processed? This information is important for your tax records and to contest any future liability claims.
Does the recycler have a documented hazardous waste disposal plan?
Does the company offer data security?
Does the company offer environmental liability protection?
Does the organization export or broker for export used electronic equipment? If so, consider the following information:
Some U.S. electronics recycling companies export end-of-life electronic equipment to less-developed foreign countries. Scrap materials are often exported because the recipient country has lower processing costs. Lower processing costs are often attributable to lower labor costs. However, the recipient country may also have less protective environmental standards.
Because some electronic products contain hazardous constituents, firms that export equipment or scrap materials to less developed countries may need to comply with applicable international laws and agreements on the export of hazardous substances. Equipment that is sent to foreign countries to be reused for its original purpose is subject to less stringent standards than scrap materials. If a recycler plans to export materials, you should ask if the recycler plans to meet notice and consent procedures specified under international laws and bilateral agreements.
Making Electronic Product Recycling Easier in the Future
One way to make recycling electronic products easier is to make wise purchasing decisions. Instead of buying new electronic products, consider repairing or upgrading your current system. If you decide to buy new equipment, ask the equipment manufacturer about reuse and recycling options such as product take back programs. To promote the use of reused and recycled products, purchase equipment designed for easy repair and upgrade. Consider installing software that runs on older systems, which will enable the next user to make maximum use of an older computer. You may also consider leasing equipment that can be returned to the manufacturer when it is no longer needed.