Earth Day Tip: How to Recycle Your Computer

You might think you're being environmentally responsible because you always print double-sided and read e-books instead of the "dead tree" versions—and yes, that's a start. But the very electronics that enable you to reduce your paper use are having a big impact on the environment in other ways. As you celebrate Earth Day this April, take a moment to plan for what you'll do when you need to get rid of your current computer or cellphone.

Computers and cellphones contain rare metals that may be mined in conflict-ridden areas with very poor working and living conditions. Additionally, these metals can be toxic. Recycling electronics can help keep toxic chemicals out of landfills (and our soil and groundwater), and reduces the need to mine for new materials.

Many computer manufacturers—including Apple, Dell, Gateway, and IBM/Lenovo have recycling programs that let you send your old computer to one of their recycling facilities at a low or no cost. Numerous cellphone manufacturers will also take back their phones and recycle them.

"Recycling" here can really mean two things: refurbishing for eventual reuse, or dismantling. Many charitable organizations are happy to take old cell phones or computers, fix them up, and make use of them. The physical process of literal recycling involves breaking down the computer into its different material components and melting them down.

Whatever you decide to do with your old computer, it's never a bad idea to wipe its memory before you get rid of it. Take a backup (you'll need this anyway, to transfer your data to your new computer) and then do one of two things. You can try downloading software to do a disk wipe, which could end up taking a bit of time and require multiple attempts to erase all your data. Regardless, this is an important step to take because simply moving your files to the recycling bin and emptying it is not enough. Your data is still recoverable. The second option is to take the less elegant (but possibly more satisfying) route of removing your hard drive and drilling a hole through it. Obviously the second option will make your computer a less appealing prospect for refurbishment.

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