Electronics Reuse and Recycling

Contact: Environmental Assistance Center 800-662-9278
Agency: Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy

Computers, cell phones, printers and other peripherals are part of the business and educational landscape of our society.  We rely on them daily to communicate, educate and conduct business.  What happens to these tools when we replace them with newer, faster models?  Donating is becoming a common practice for extending the life of working electronics but eventually they will no longer be valuable as products.  What do we do with these obsolete electronics as well as our broken televisions, radios, and stereos?

DELETE THE DATA:  Before donating or recycling your old computer or other electronic device, make sure that the data in it is completely deleted.  Reformatting the hard drive or deleting files may not be enough.  You need to completely destroy the data on your hard drive.  The U.S. EPA has two fact sheets developed in 2006 that provide information about donating and a list of free software you can use to delete information from your computer.  

IS IT HAZARDOUS?  Many electronics contain hazardous materials such as lead in solder, cadmium in circuit boards and mercury in batteries.  Most older computer display screens and televisions contain cathode ray tubes (CRT's).  CRT's contain leaded glass to protect the user from the x-rays inside the tubes.  Lead is a hazardous material that can cause environmental and health damage if not managed safely.  Lead in CRT's cause computers to be considered hazardous waste when disposed by regulated generators in Michigan.  Residents are exempt from hazardous waste regulations.  Regulated or not, Michigan residents are concerned that their old computer will end up in their local landfill or municipal solid waste incinerator with the potential of leaching or emitting lead and other heavy metals into the water or air.  This has caused many communities in Michiganand around the country to hold electronic waste collection events where materials are gathered for shipment to recyclers who dismantle, sort and recycle the various glass, plastic and metal components.

There is still much we do not know about what is actually hazardous in all of our electronic tools and toys.  Click "back" to find information to help you manage your used electronics, whether you are a business generating regulated hazardous waste or a resident with a used computer or cell phone.