You can reduce the environmental impact of electronics at the end of their useful life through reuse and donation, recycling, and buying greener electronic products.
Preventing waste in the first place is usually preferable to any waste management option...including recycling. Donating used (but still operating) electronics for reuse extends the lives of valuable products and keeps them out of the waste stream for a longer period of time. Reuse, in addition to being an environmentally preferable alternative, also benefits society. By donating your used electronics, you allow schools, nonprofit organizations, and lower-income families to obtain equipment that they otherwise could not afford.
Before donating your computer or other electronics, make sure the equipment is reusable. Donation organizations have limited or in many cases no resources and employees to diagnose and repair hardware. A functional, working system-especially with monitor, wiring, and software licenses-is a lot more useful and requires less upgrading than a nonworking, incomplete computer. Check to see what the donation organization's minimum computer requirements are (e.g., Pentium processor, Windows 95). Donation organizations might not accept (or might charge a fee for) older, less useful equipment (e.g., 386 processors, dot matrix printers, less than 14 inch color monitors).
As a business, you might be able to take advantage of tax incentives for computer equipment donations. The 21st Century Classrooms Act encourages large companies to donate computer equipment to public and private schools. When donating equipment to a nonprofit organization, inquire about documentation that can be applied toward your income tax return.
The most appropriate donation organization for computers can vary from area to area. In some cases, the most viable donation organization might be a charity, but in other areas, the appropriate donation organization might be the local school district or materials exchange. Visit Ten Tips for Donating a Computer to learn more.
See Donation Programs for organizations with information about donating your electronic equipment.
If donation for reuse or repair is not a viable option, households and businesses can send their used electronics for recycling. Recyclers recover more than 100 million pounds of materials from electronics each year. Recycling electronics helps reduce pollution that would be generated while manufacturing a new product and the need to extract valuable and limited virgin resources. It also reduces the energy used in new product manufacturing.
One thousand or more municipalities offer computer and electronics collections as part of household hazardous waste collections, special events, or other arrangements. In addition, public and private organizations have emerged that accept computers and other electronics for recycling. Fifty percent of the materials in a personal computer can be recycled. Depending on where you live and the amount of equipment you have, the best recycling option might be a county recycling drop-off center, TV repair shop, charitable organization, electronics recycling company, or even your local electronics retailer, which might collect used products and send them to a recycler. You can learn more about local electronics recyclers and collection events at EIA Environment - Consumer Education Initiative.
Many electronics manufacturers are accepting used household electronics for recycling. In some cases, these services are provided free-of-charge. Asset management and recovery programs have been available to major corporations and large purchasers of electronic equipment for quite some time. Now, electronics manufacturers are beginning to offer similar services for households and small businesses. The consumer pays to mail the product back. Fees keep changing, but generally range from seven dollars up. Some manufacturers and retailers are offering free or for-a-fee events in communities.
See Recycling Programs for organizations with information about recycling your electronic equipment.
Environmentally responsible electronics use involves not only proper end-of-life disposition of obsolete equipment, but also purchasing new equipment that has been designed with environmentally preferable attributes. Think about this when purchasing new equipment, and ask your retailer or electronics supplier about environmentally preferable electronics. Households, companies, and governmental organizations can encourage electronics manufacturers to design greener electronics by purchasing computers and other electronics with environmentally preferable attributes and by requesting takeback options at the time of purchase. Look for electronics that:
The Plug-In To eCycling Campaign is one of many new efforts under EPA's Resource Conservation Challenge (RCC) which seeks to increase the national recycling rate to 35 percent, among other goals. The campaign aims to get the word out about opportunities to reuse and recycle your old computers, TVs, and cell phones, and to build momentum for even more reuse and recycling programs. Under the RCC, EPA is working with electronics manufacturers, retailers, and government agencies to reduce the environmental impacts of electronic products during their production, use, and disposal. The Agency will also establish partnerships and alliances with industry, states and environmental groups; provide training, tools and technology assistance for businesses, governments and citizen groups and get the word out through outreach and assistance to the general population, especially to youth and minority groups.
Overall, EPA's goal is to promote greater electronics product stewardship. Product stewardship means that all who make, distribute, use, and dispose of products share responsibility for reducing the environmental impact of those products. EPA intends to work towards this goal in three ways:
EPA is currently working with stakeholders in both the public and private sectors to meet these goals. The aim is to make it easier and more cost-effective for consumers, retailers, recyclers, manufacturers, and governments at all levels to help divert these products into environmentally sound reuse and recycling outlets, as well as reduce the environmental footprint of electronic product use.