High-Tech Computer Junk: Where Does It Go?

July 28th Colorado Network Of Business for Social Responsibility


1. Leah Jung Vista Environmental Inc

2. Parry Burnapp Colorado Department of Environment and Public Health 303.692.2975

3. Bob Knowles Technology Recycling

4. Deben Tobias Business for Social Responsibility host

1997 Carnegie Mellon report predicts by the year 2005

150 million computers recycled

50 million trashed

equivelent of 15 million computers trashed as part are thrown out

1995 Tufts study

14 - 20 million computeres are stockpiled


1. Volume & toxicity isue


CRTs / monitors


EPA will issue ruling May 2000 to make CRTs monitors easier to recycle
generators of computer pullution are responsible for its proper disposal
Large generators of computer pollution are held liable - possible superfund litigation

Ideally computers components would be designed to be recycled.

1. Ideally designed with a concern for the environment
computers are currently outdated in two years

2. Take Back program

computer manufactures are required to take back & recycle / reuse the old
computer consumers have when they buy a new one

European model on how to handle computer junk

As US consumers we should excercise our voice in computer equipment
purchasing to support manufacturers who take back and recycle old computer

Wisconsin & Ohio have computer collection Days and recycling fact sheets
hat are handed out to purchasing agents

End of life issues for electronic equipment:

1. waste reduction and recycling

2. public relations

3. government regulatory relations

4. community recognition

5. environmental leadership

Ideally computer manufactures should design for the enviroment but they don't

It is harder to collect and recycle computers from individuals than it is from company warehouses

Where do old computers go?

1. warehouse

2. room or closet

3. basement

4. sold or donated

not feasible for older computers

generally needs to be 486 pentiums now

3rd world countries don't necessarily want our older computer stock

5. recycled

be careful who you use

superfund liability possible

6. land fill

hazardous waste in computers

know regulatory issues

ignorance is how good companies get pulled into liability issues for toxic dumping

What is in a computer?

1. commodity metals -

copper, steel , aluminum, brass

requires detailed work to separate

2. heavey metals

lead, cadium, silver


3. hazardous components

battery / mercry relay

4. glass leaded

5. plastic

fillers, stabilizers, ppbs, plasticzicers,

a lot of different plastic materials are used

lead stabilizars are used in computer casings

lead stabilizers were also used in miniblinds distributed to walmart. Those blinds were recalled due to manufacturer liability for their proper disposal

How to recycle a computer.

1. Dismantle to recover usable parts

problem is chip market prices are dropping

who will use a 20mb hard drive today?

labor costs to dismantle

Western Disposal recently canceled their computer recycling pick up day because of environmental justice issues including the low to slave labor rates some third world nations pay people to dismantle 1st world discarded computers

2. Separate out the metals, plastic and glass ect

problem is :

managing hazardous waste

shipping each material to a different processing facility

need high volume of each material to make it cost effective

What else can you do with an old computer?

1. Sold by bid or auction

usually many in a package deal

to sweeten the deal a company will put in a few good computers

purchaser takes the good ones and landfills the others

really only pushing disposal onto someone else

2. Give to someone

donation, friends, employees

only prolongs disposal for short term

3. Dispose of computer as any other hazardous waste

don't handle computers differently

computer hazardous waste documents from EPA ?

EPA Code of Federal Regulations (RFR) 40

Sections 260-266, 273



1. Lead D0008

2. Cadium D0006

3. Mercury D0009

4. Silver D0011

5. PCB

6. CFC (Freons)

7. Phosphors

8. Tungsten

9. Lithium

10. NiCAD

11. Copper

12. Iron

13. Silver-oxcide

14. Mercury-oxcide

15. Zinc-carbon

Use reputabble recylcers to avoid superfund liability from recyclers that simply landfill them

Recycling properly is labor intensive and will cost money

How to dispose of and recycle according to EPA standards?

take apart and sort in a one stop shop

in Denver using a disabled workforce at a good wage

plans for computer recycling nationwide

consumer drop off centers available in Metro

Denver/Boulder for now

charges $35/ computer to recycle

Establish a computer recycling fee / computer disposal tax?

like battery oil recovery

state legislation?

Tire tax is actually used to fund CHAFA ie.

something different than its first intended use

Ron Tupa

Tom Plant

UN will take and distribute pentiums or better computers if you ship it to them

Europe mandates computer manufacturers have a take back program

The problem:

50 million personal computers are sold

rapid obselescence

they have a 12 -18 month life cycle (Moores law)

old systems are worthless

too bad they don't smell

when they are picked up for recycling they have a 5 year old dust on them,

but better to dust off for recovery than dig out of


Y2K 486s and earlier will not turn on = more computer disposal problems

EPA is ready to roll computers into universal waste

1. Donations

nonprofits are only accepting internet capable computers

2. Refurbish computers

y2k problems plus lower pricing on newer better machines

in part the computers are coming down in price due to their use of leaded plastic and less precious metals in their components (micro coating technology) both are disincentives to recycling

Y2k will create computers to dispose of 5 acres at the base and 80,000 feet high

3. Dump in foriegn countries

us government regulates

poor environmental practices in other countries

China burns them in a huge fire and then harvests the metals they can recover after the burning

4. Dump in Landfill

epa regulations outlaw computer dumping (creates solid waste problems)

would need to take serial number off before dumping

EPA standards are that the generator of the waste is resonsible for its disosal

Mass. and other states restrict CRTs being thrown away

5. Store in wherehouse

hidden costs


admin & inventory

insurance & riske management

property tax still paid for the old system

federal tax depreciates after 5-12 years

state and county tax still consider it an asset and they evaluate the asset at the retail price paid for the computer.