About Computer Recycling


In 2007, 158 million discarded computer products were dumped in landfills. Only 48 million were recycled. Roughly 2 percent of all trash in landfills is old computer equipment. Recycling a computer is a good way to pass a functioning computer along to those in need. It’s also an environmentally friendly way to get rid of your old or broken electronics.


If your old computer still works, your best recycling option is to donate it for reuse. You can donate your equipment to a non-profit agency for a tax deduction. Be sure to get a tax receipt if you plan to take a deduction. You can deduct the current fair market value of the computer. Instead of a direct donation, you can give the computer to a refurbisher, who will make sure it is in top condition and none of your data remains on it.

When you donate, keep the operating system intact. If your computer came with a Microsoft operating system already installed, the license for that operating system is only valid for the machine it came with. Make sure you include original disks and that the Certificate of Authenticity sticker is still on the computer or in the manual. Include documentation if available.


As of 2007, only 18 percent of televisions and computers and 10 percent of cell phones were recycled. If your machine is over five years old, does not have Internet capabilities or is broken, it should be recycled rather than donated. This is also called responsible destruction. The recycler will salvage usable parts and remove hazardous materials.

Most recyclers accept donations. They recoup their costs by selling the materials they salvage. In 2006, a bill was proposed that would require a $10 fee be added to the sale of all new computers to cover the costs of recycling. Stores like Best Buy and Radio Shack lobbied strongly against this, and it did not pass.


A computer is a high-ticket item for many families. By recycling your electronics, you help those who otherwise might not be able to afford them. There are many charitable organizations that will make sure low-income or disabled individuals will get your old computer.

Computers are high consumers of raw materials, particularly oil byproducts, gold, nickel, lead, mercury, cadmium and copper. Recycling your unusable equipment allows parts to be reused and repurposed. Many of these are toxic and should not be put in landfills. This saves energy and natural resources. According to the EPA, if 1 million computers were recycled each year, the energy savings would be enough to provide electricity to over 3,500 U.S. homes.


Make sure there is no data on your hard drive that you would not want others to see, or make sure you wipe your hard drive clean before donation. Use a disk cleaning utility to make sure any personal information is unrecoverable. Just formatting the hard drive is not enough.

Make sure you contact recyclers and refurbishers before donating as some of them have requirements for the equipment they will take. Some will not accept processors older than Pentium II.


The materials salvaged from recycled electronics can be recycled into plastics for new electronics, garden furniture, license plate frames and automotive parts. Batteries from laptops and cell phones can recycled for use in other rechargeable batteries. In 1998, over 112 million pounds of recyclable materials were recovered from computers. These include glass, steel, plastic and precious metals.

About 99 percent of the materials salvaged from computers is reused or sold. Much of the plastic is reused for new computers because it already meets the grade standards for such products. Some plastic is also used in making lighters and wood composites.

Regulations and Laws

There are no federal mandates to recycle computers, although there have been several attempts to create legislation. The EPA does encourage recycling of cathode ray tubes, found in many older computers.

Many states do have mandated electronic recycling programs. The National Electronics Recycling Infrastructure Clearinghouse maintains an up-to-date database of laws regarding computer recycling.