Why Is it Important to Recycle Computers?

Why Is it Important to Recycle Computers?

Americans own nearly 3 billion electronic products, and all of them are on their way toward being obsolete and discarded. Recycling your e-waste can not only keep dangerous materials out of landfills, it can protect the health of children, minimize the damage of excess mining and save you costly fines. Recycling your computer, and all your obsolete electronic waste, makes good sense.

Toxic Materials

Computers contain toxic materials. Cadmium, which is used in computer batteries, can cause bone and kidney damage. The chromium that hardens metal computer housings causes kidney and liver damage, allergic reactions and lung cancer. Lead found in solder impairs the development of the brain and nervous system. Mercury, which is used in flat screen displays, causes central nervous system and kidney damage. The brominated flame retardants incorporated into casing and circuit boards cause endocrine disruptors. All of these harmful materials persist in the environment when computers are dumped in landfills.

Raw Materials

Recycling computers allows valuable raw materials to be placed back into service rather than being lost to landfills. Cadmium, for example, is a rare mineral found in low concentrations in nature. Recycling computer batteries allows refined cadmium to be recaptured. Computers contain gold and lead, iron, silicon, aluminum, plastic, tin and other materials that can be recaptured or recycled. Any metal removed from a recycled computer is a metal that doesn’t have to be mined.

Crowded Landfills

In 2007, 157.3 million computer units were dumped in landfills. That’s 157,300,000 computers, monitors, keyboards and peripherals dumped in one year alone. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated at that time that another 234.6 million electronic products were out of service and waiting in storage for disposal. In 2007 the recycling rate was only 18 percent, meaning the rest of these electronics are probably sitting in landfills at this very moment. Recycling computers keeps them out of already swelling landfills.

Third World Countries

Electronic waste is often exported from developed countries to developing ones. In the United States, 50 to 80 percent of electronic waste is shipped abroad. China has banned this waste, but continues to receive it through gray- and blackmarket channels. India, Africa and countries in the Far East also receive our waste. In Ghana, children scramble over piles of old computers, looking for copper wire to recycle. What they are finding without knowing it are all the health problems associated with the heavy metals and toxic components in those computers. The 1998 Basel Convention banned export of this waste, but the United States refused to ratify the convention and continues to export its electronic waste.


A big reason you may ask yourself Why Is it Important to Recycle Computers? Conscience is not enough reason to recycle computers, consider the law. In some states, it is now illegal to burn a computer or dump it in a landfill. In the United States, 61 percent of the population is covered by some kind of e-waste recycling law with more bills pending. Not recycling a computer can net fines and other injunctions.

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