According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans alone own around 3 billion electronic products, and the quantity of electronic waste that we generate is steadily going up. Video equipment, TVs, computers, monitors, keyboards, cell phones and more are ending up in our landfills. In 2007, the EPA estimated that 40 million computers became obsolete in one year. What happens with all that waste?
In the EPA’s 2007 study, they determined approximately 235 million units were sitting in storage. Of that only 18% was recycled and 82% or 414,000 tons of electronic waste was put in landfills.
Computers are one of the world’s greatest inventions and are beneficial to the world’s economy but unfortunately when trashed, they are toxic. Carcinogens, heavy metals and toxic chemicals are all part of the makeup of a computer. For years, developed countries have been exporting their electronic waste to places like China and India for cheap disposal. Since 2000, it has been illegal to do this but corruption still rules in many cases.
When you are ready to recycle your computer make the right choice. Be sure to ask the disposer where your unit is being sent and how it is being recycled. Find out to what organization it is going. If a company cannot give you answers about where your unit is going, that is not a good sign and you need to go on to a different recycler. The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition has a lot of information about safe recycling companies. Go to for more details. You can also contact your computer manufacturer and pack and ship your old computer to them.
So what about the data on your old computer? Do not hand over a computer to someone for recycling without eradicating the data on the unit. You have a couple of choices. You can ask the recycler to wipe the hard drive, you can do it yourself or take it to a computer repair store. You want to make sure you get rid of all data like your contacts, documents, messages, non-transferable software and even your trash bin. Manually deleting files is not enough, a professional identity thief can still recover it off your hard drive. You need to wipe the hard drive using disk-cleaning software. Some systems, like Windows 7 and Windows Vista come with Disk Cleanup. If you need to find software cleanup for your system, try searching for “file shredder” or “secure file deletion.”
Remember you can also take your computer to a reputable computer repair store and they will safely overwrite your files. They may also recycle the unit for you.
In addition, when looking to purchase a new computer, consider getting a refurbished one. You can get a terrific deal on a refurbished laptop which will reduce another unit going into an electronic waste pile in the future.