While you can probably throw a computer away in the trash, it isn’t really recommended. Not only is it going to be awful for the environment, but it is also going to be awful for your security too.
Computers should be taken to your local recycling center or to an electronics store that offers recycling services. Some computer manufacturers also have programs that let you mail in your computer for recycling.
We want to take a look at both of these here, as well as give you an idea about what you should be doing with your old computers as opposed to 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 do 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, then you will be ‘enjoying’ 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 are just not going to be fun. It may also result in criminal charges, which, again, is not going to 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.
It is rare that computers will be removed from the trash and recycled. There isn’t the manpower to do that. Sure, it may happen in some smaller areas, but we wouldn’t really 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 breakdown. 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 is going to be impacting 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 not limited to):
Some of these are incredibly rare resources, while others require a ton of 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 to this, computers will have a ton of plastic in them.
Because computers are quite complicated pieces of equipment, the recyclers will need to have some special equipment at their disposal to recycle computers quickly and effectively.
No. They are not going to be spending hours and hours extracting parts from the computer.
Instead, they are going to be throwing the computer is a massive shredder. Once the computer is in there, it will be broken down.
Using a rather complicated process, as the computer is broken down, the various metals and other materials are extracted and sorted. 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 there is very little that cannot be recycled!) will be removed and thrown in the trash. Yes. This part will be ending up in the landfill. However, we promise you that this is going to do far less damage to the environment than throwing a whole computer into the landfill.
Exactly 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 have the ability to recycle electronics, including computers, then you may need to do a little bit of research to ensure that wherever you are taking your computer will accept it. Although, to be honest with, even if they do 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)
If your computer is fairly modern, or you have a laptop, then you may find that many computer companies or electronic waste recycling companies may pay you a small amount of cash for your computer. They are really paying you for the parts so that they can be reused, 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 they will pass that cash onto you.
The only problem is that it is becoming harder and harder to find places that offer this sort of service. If you do, then they aren’t going to be offering anywhere near the same amount of money that they would have offered in the past.
Finally, just because the computer is useless for you doesn’t mean that it is going to be useless for somebody else. If you want to make a bit of cash, then you can always sell it secondhand. This will prevent it from ending up in a landfill, it gets reused (which is good for the environment) and you are going to be making a bit of cash when you sell it on too.
Of course, for older computers, going to your local recycling company or dump will be your best bet. Do not just leave the computer by the side of the road. There is no guarantee that it will be recycled unless there is a recycling truck that drives past your home.
How Do You Prepare a Computer For Recycling?
While you can just take your computer to a recycling center and be done with it, this isn’t really something that we would 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 are going to 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 you are planning to recycle by selling the computer, then you may need to do a bit of preparation.
Your safest bet would be to remove the hard drive from the computer. Keep it.
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 in can be quite a tough ask.
Luckily, there is plenty of software out there that you can use to wipe the hard drive clean. You may also want to do a full reinstall of the operating system before you sell the computer.
Sure, this is going to require some extra effort on your part, but trust us, this extra effort is going to be worth it when you realize that your personal data is not at the 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. There are people out there who 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, you should not be throwing these in the trash as they will end up damaging the environment.
To be honest with you, if the computer monitor is still in decent working condition, then it may actually be better to sell it, or take it to your local thrift store. This is a lot less resource-intensive than recycling the monitor.
Of course, with a monitor, you won’t have to do much in the way of preparation. All you need to do is give that monitor a decent clean before you sell it on 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 why you want to be recycling computer accessories is to ensure that the plastic does not damage the environment.
You can take your computer accessories to the same place that you recycle your computer. Alternatively, you could put in the effort to take apart the accessory and put the plastic in with your normal recycling, and just 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. In fact, it is vital that the laptop batteries do not 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 that 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 the handling of batteries in many places throughout the United States.
In fact, 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 to come.
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, benefitting the planet that you live on is more than worth it!