While you can probably throw a computer away in the trash, it isn’t recommended. Not only will it be awful for the environment, but it will also be awful for your security.
Computers should be taken to your local recycling center or an electronics store offering recycling services. Some computer manufacturers also have programs letting you mail your computer for recycling.
We want to take a look at both of these here and give you an idea about what you should be doing with your old computers instead of just leaving them by the side of the road for the garbage men to haul away.
Throwing Computers in the Trash is Illegal in Some Places
Before we go any further, we want to point out that in some places in the United States, it is 100% illegal to throw your old computers in the trash. If you do this, you will enjoy some rather substantial fines.
You will probably have to look into the laws for your town or city to discover whether it is illegal to throw a computer away in the standard trash. If it is, then avoid doing it. Don’t even think about it.
Even when you ignore all the other benefits of recycling your computer, the fines will not be fun. It may also result in criminal charges, which, again, will not be that awesome.
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What Happens If You Throw a Computer in the Trash?
If it is legal to throw a computer away in the trash where you live, then the garbage men will have no problems hauling it away. However, do bear in mind that the computer is almost certainly going to end up in a landfill.
Computers will rarely be removed from the trash and recycled. There isn’t the manpower to do that. It may happen in smaller areas, but we wouldn’t count on it.
Now, the thing with your computer is that it has been made with a ton of heavy metals and other chemicals. They are brilliant for making computers, but they are not brilliant for the environment.
Once your computer has been buried in that landfill, it will start to break down. As it does this, it will release all of those awful chemicals and heavy metals into the surrounding environment. Once this happens, nothing will be able to grow on that land for centuries.
The heavy metals will also find their way into the local water supply. This may impact your drinking water. It will almost certainly kill off animals that rely on nearby water sources. You may have only used your computer for a couple of years, but it will impact the environment for thousands.
You may think that one computer is not going to cause an issue. You are quite right.
It is unlikely that a single computer will scar the landscape for centuries to come. However, imagine if everybody thought like this.
If you have thousands of people saying, “my computer won’t harm the environment,” then suddenly you have thousands of computers buried in a landfill. That will harm the environment.
What Happens If You Recycle a Computer?
Computers are made up of many metals. This includes (but is not limited to):
Some of these are incredibly rare resources, while others require much effort to produce or extract from the ground. Thankfully, all of these metals can be reused.
It benefits the planet because they are not being placed into a landfill, but fewer resources will need to be spent extracting raw materials from the ground. In addition, computers will have a ton of plastic in them.
Because computers are complicated pieces of equipment, the recyclers will need to have some special equipment at their disposal to recycling computers quickly and effectively.
No. They will not be spending hours and hours extracting parts from the computer.
Instead, they will be throwing the computer in a massive shredder. Once the computer is in there, it will be broken down.
Using a rather complicated process, the various metals and other materials are extracted and sorted as the computer is broken down. This means that the recycling company will end up with a small pile of gold, some steel, plastic, and other things.
Anything that cannot be recycled in a computer (and very little that cannot be recycled!) will be removed and thrown in the trash. Yes. This part will end up in the landfill. However, we promise this will damage the environment less than throwing a whole computer into a landfill.
The same process will happen to all electronics. This is because most electronics use very similar parts and thus have been constructed from the same materials.
Because there are only some recycling facilities that can recycle electronics, including computers, you may need to do a little research to ensure that wherever you are taking your computer will accept it. Although, to be honest with you, even if they have the equipment there, they will know exactly where it should be sent for recycling. You can leave it with them.
Where Can You Recycle a Computer?
Most recycling centers will gladly accept computers, as will your local dump (they will normally have recycling set up there). This is probably going to be the quickest way to recycle your computer. They will break everything down for you, so you don’t have to worry about doing anything other than preparing your computer for recycling (see the next section)
Suppose your computer is fairly modern, or you have a laptop. In that case, you may find that many computer or electronic waste recycling companies may pay you a small amount of cash for your computer. They pay you for the reused parts or the gold removed from the circuits.
They will likely send your computer away to have this done. They will get paid some money and pass that cash onto you.
The only problem is that it is becoming harder and harder to find places that offer this service. If you do, they aren’t offering anywhere near the same amount of money they would have offered in the past.
Finally, just because the computer is useless for you doesn’t mean it will be useless for somebody else. You can always sell it secondhand if you want to make a bit of cash. This will prevent it from ending up in a landfill, it gets reused (which is good for the environment), and you will be making a bit of cash when you sell it too.
Of course, going to your local recycling company or dump will be your best bet for older computers. Do not just leave the computer by the side of the road. There is no guarantee that it will be recycled unless a recycling truck drives past your home.
How Do You Prepare a Computer For Recycling?
While you can take your computer to a recycling center and be done with it, this isn’t something we recommend. This is because your computer will have your hard drive in it. This means that you will have a ton of personal data.
Now, recycling centers aren’t going to look at your hard drive. They will throw the computer into the shredding machine and be done with it.
However, if you are leaving your computer by the side of the road or planning to recycle by selling the computer, you may need to do a bit of preparation.
Your safest bet would be to remove the hard drive from the computer. Keep it.
Please don’t give it away. This is the only way you can 100% guarantee that your data will be safe. Although, selling a computer without a hard drive can be tough.
Luckily, plenty of software out there can be used to clean the hard drive. You may also want to reinstall the operating system before fully selling the computer.
Sure, this will require some extra effort on your part, but trust us, this extra effort will be worth it when you realize that your data is not at risk of being stolen.
Now, we probably are overestimating the number of people that do want to get their hands on your personal information. Most people don’t want it.
They wouldn’t even know how to access it if they did. But it is still worth preparing the hard drive for recycling anyway. Even if the risk is small, the consequences if something does happen will be massive.
Under absolutely no circumstances should you be throwing a hard drive in the trash? People out there go through trash cans looking for this sort of thing. They will know what to do with your hard drive if they get their hands on it.
Can You Recycle Computer Monitors?
Yes. You can recycle computer monitors in the same way that you recycle your computer. Once again, it would be best not to throw these in the trash as they will damage the environment.
If the computer monitor is still in decent working condition, selling it or taking it to your local thrift store may be better. This is a lot less resource-intensive than recycling the monitor.
Of course, with a monitor, you won’t have to do much in preparation. All you need to do is give that monitor a decent clean before you sell it, and you should be fine.
Can You Recycle Computer Accessories (e.g., keyboard and mouse)
Most computer accessories will be made mostly of plastic. Sure, there will be a small amount of metal in there which can be reused. However, the main reason you want to recycle computer accessories is to ensure that the plastic does not damage the environment.
You can take your computer accessories to the same place where you recycle your computer. Alternatively, you could put in the effort to take apart the accessory, put the plastic in with your normal recycling, and take the circuit board to the local recycling facility. It is a bit of extra effort, sure. However, some people find that it is worth it.
Can You Recycle Laptop Batteries?
Yes. Laptop batteries mustn’t get anywhere near a landfill.
Laptop batteries are filled with chemicals that are more harmful to the environment than any computer. While not everything in a laptop battery can be recycled, the recycling company will at least know how to handle the harmful chemicals to ensure they are not polluting anything.
No. They will not end up anywhere near a trash can. There are special rules and regulations in place for handling batteries in many places throughout the United States.
If you head to your local electronics store, there is a strong chance that they will have a battery box for old batteries that you can use. If you use it, you can be certain that the batteries will be dealt with safely.
While you can throw away a computer in the trash, you shouldn’t. It benefits nobody. It does nothing more than fill up space in a landfill, damaging the environment for centuries.
Where possible, you should always try to recycle a computer and accessories. Sure, it does take a small amount of extra effort, but we promise you that benefitting the planet you live on is more than worth it!