Earth Week E-Cycle

According to the EPA, discarded electronics accounts for 220 million tons of refuse every year, enough material to fill trucks that would stretch bumper-to-bumper for more than 2000 miles. This electronic waste includes computer parts, monitors, printers, microwave ovens, cell phones, batteries, and audio-video equipment.

  • Every year, humans dispose of approximately 250 million computers.

  • Just in California, 6,000 computers become obsolete every day.

  • In the United States there are over 200 million mobile phones (More than 1.2 billon cell phones were sold worldwide in 2008).

  • Only 10% of electronics equipment is recycled. The rest winds up in landfill where it will sit for the rest of eternity.

  • Since electronic equipment contains toxic substances, this enormous volume poses a tremendous health and environmental risk from the landfills, where the toxins can leak into the soil and ground water. For example, cathode ray tubes (CRT) in computer monitors and televisions contain heavy metals, including lead, barium and cadmium.

    According to data from EIAE.Org, lead accounts for approximately 10% of the weight of a CRT television or computer monitor. An estimated 70 per cent of heavy metals found in U.S. landfills comes from discarded electronics. These metals can be very harmful to the health of people and wildlife if they enter the ground water.

    More than half of recycled electronics end up in scrapyards in China, Ghana and other developing countries. There, the refuse is burned or dismantled by hand, exposing desperate workers to mercury, lead and other toxic materials.

    The five hundred million computers currently in use contain 6.32 billion pounds of plastics, 1.58 billion pounds of lead, and 632,000 pounds of mercury.

    The Basel Action Network

    In the United States, there are no federal regulations to address e-waste disposal, but a few states have enacted laws to address the problem. Arkansas, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Washington have passed regulations governing the disposal of electronic waste.

    Consumer Reports has an online tool called "Fix It or Nix It" to help consumers decide whether their electronics is worth repairing or upgrading.

    Donating a Computer to Charity

    LandfillAfrican Electronics Dump


    E-CycleE-Cycle Day

                              Photo: Dru Bloomfield

    There are several charitable organizations like Goodwill (, and National Cristina Foundation ( that accept electronics for recycling. You can also contact to find a local e-cycle center.

    Giving away old electronics can be characterized as a charitable donation (tax deduction). If you intend to donate a computer, you should not completely erase the hard-drive, since charitable organizations usually cannot afford to purchase new operating systems. If possible, provide the charity with original installation media and documentation from when the computer was purchased.

    Technical Aspects of Computer Recycling

    The computer owner has the most detailed knowledge of the data contained within the computer that needs to be purged, and what data needs to be retained.

    Properly deleting files requires more than just dragging files into the recycle bin and then emptying the directory. Erased documents can still be recovered unless they are purged more fully. Similarly, reformatting the hard disk may not prevent the recovery of old data as it is possible for disks to be "unformatted".

    The best options are commercially available programs like Norton SystemWorks. These programs not only delete a file, but remove traces of the file on the hard-drive by writing noise over the track that once held the sensitive data.

    Even though the process takes a little effort, it's worth the trouble to recycle. You probably can save enough money on your taxes, by donating the computer to charity, to make it worth your time. And you can sleep better, knowing that you did your part as a good citizen of the planet Earth.

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