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New life for old tech: before you toss that old computer, cell phone, or other electronic junk, try to dispose of it in an "earth-friendly" way. It's easier than you think - Of Concern Now

Beverly Burmeier

More than 3 million tons of electronic waste--computers, televisions, fax machines, stereos, camcorders, cellular phones, VCRs, and more--are laid to rest in landfills each year, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Consumers are creating a huge electronic junkyard, which could pose a serious health and environmental hazard.

Electronic products contain hazardous materials that pose risks if deposited in landfills or incinerated. Some products, such as computer screens and TV sets contain 4 to 8 pounds of lead, a heavy metal that is toxic to humans. Other everyday products also contain toxic materials, such as cadmium, mercury, nickel, zinc, and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), all of which have been known to enter the waste stream and could end up in our drinking water.

If your spring cleaning will include discarding old electronics, consider these options for their safe disposal.


Major computer manufacturers and sellers have begun collecting old PCs and printers in an effort to promote more recycling o computers. Here are a few companies that do this, along with Web sites for more information:

DELL: America's largest computer maker provides online programs to recycle, trade-in, auction, or donate used PCs and related equipment. Company representatives come to your home and pick up any brand of used tech--computer, keyboard, mouse, monitor, or printer, as well as batteries from notebook computers--for the gee of $7.50 per 50 pounds. Go to for more information about this program.

HEWLETT-PACKARD: The company's Planet Partners program accepts any manufacturer's electronic equipment, which is picked up for a fee and recycled. Find out more at their Web site:

CANON: This company collects used printer-ink cartridges for recycling or disposal through its Clean Earth Campaign. Go to

EPSON: The printer manufacturer offers a recycling program that lets consumers order an online recycling packet, instructing them on shipping their computers to the company for recovery.

Although the program costs a flat fee of $10 (to defray shipping and recycling costs), consumers who participate get a $5 electronic coupon that can redeemed at Epson's online store. Go to on the Internet for more information.

IBM: The computer-making giant offers a service that charges about $30 to recycle or refurbish any manufacturer's PCs, which are then donated to charity. Go to for more information.

BEST BUY: The electronics super-store company organizes special collection weekends, during which consumers can drop off unwanted computers, monitors, TVs, VCRs, and cell phones at specified stores. A handling fee is charged for items, such as monitors, which contain a cathode ray tube (CRT). For more information go to


Nonprofit organizations are eager recipients of old computers, which they refurbish and use, or recycle and sell to support the organization. Here are examples of some of the organizations that would treasure your computer trash.

COMPUTERS4KIDs: This Charlottesville, Virginia, organization reconditions old computers for use by at-risk children. Upon completion of a basic computer class, students earn a computer system for their homes. Find out more at

THE NATIONAL CRISTINA FOUNDATION: This clearinghouse matches donations to local nonprofits--keeping items in the donor's community--to train disabled people and economically disadvantaged people. For information, go to

GOODWILL INDUSTRIES: Goodwill sells computer equipment in more than 75 organizations nationwide and offers computer-related job training. For details, go to

LOCAL PROGRAMS: There are hundreds. To find one near you, search through the National Recycling Coalition--Electronics Recycling Initiative, which can be found on the Web at


There are other altruistic ways to dispose of your tech-trash. Here are some more options to consider.

HOLD A FUNDRAISER. Collect used cartridges for printers, copiers, or faxes and sell to companies, such as Image Craft, to raise funds for a nonprofit organization--and keep these nonbiodegradable items out of landfills. Patrick Moriarty, principal of Minerva-Deland School in Fairport, New York, says the $600 per year his school receives from collecting cartridges is "easy money that's used to support student activities."

TAKE ITEMS TO A COLLECTION AGENCY. Many of the EPA-permitted waste-handling facilities, either private or government sponsored, accept and process hazardous waste products. Access local facilities through a database maintained by Electronic Industries Alliance on their Web site at

One note of caution: No matter how you get rid of your computer, be aware that all your personal data can remain even after files on the hard drive have been deleted. Identity thieves have salvaged this personal information from discarded hard drives, so consider getting a software program such as DriveScrubber, which destroys data but still enables the hard drive to be used. Go to for more information about the program, as well as a free 30-day trial version of the software.


"Green tech"--environmentally friendly technology--has been slow in coming to market, but look for these products and procedures when making new purchases:

LCD monitors and fiat-screen televisions contain no lead and require lower power consumption. They also last longer and run cooler, saving energy dollars.

Hardware design is changing to allow easier upgrading or recycling. Apple uses an access door for components and modular design in its Power Mac. IBM has reduced the variety of screws, bolts, plastics, and glues in its products. Dell has eliminated screws and instituted a "snap assembly."

Rechargeable batteries available for certain products eliminate frequent disposal of dead batteries.

Recycled resin used for constructing major plastic parts in new PCs helps reduce the millions of pounds of plastics discarded in landfills.

Need to bolster your computer skills? Video Professor, based in Denver, Colorado, offers lessons that stream directly from their Web site--no CDs, no packaging, no manuals, nothing to throw away or even recycle.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Meredith Corporation
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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