Recycling Computers Is Not Just the Right Thing to Do, It's Required by Law: Electronic equipment contains hazardous substances such as lead (6 lbs./computer monitor), mercury, chromium, cadmium, and beryllium. Because of the toxic characteristics, many computer components are considered hazardous waste.
Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, it is the responsibility of the generator (the person who creates the waste) to "characterize" the waste (determine if it is hazardous) and to manage it appropriately. If your facility generates more than 7-8 computers in a month (assuming you have no other hazardous waste), you will fall into the category of "Small Quantity Generator." If you have many more computers, you could be a "Large Quantity Generator." This makes you subject to RCRA requirements. In this case, you can be subject to civil and criminal penalties if you were to send these computers to the landfill in regular trash or to break them intentionally as part of disposal. You need to recycle these. If you recycle, the computers will not be treated as a hazardous waste, under a new proposed CRT (cathode ray tube) rule.
- Factsheet on the Proposed CRT Rule to Streamline Electronics Recycling
- EPA Powerpoint Presentation explaining how the computers are regulated under RCRA and the proposed CRT rule (intended to streamline recycling) would work.
Not All Computer Recyclers Are Doing It Right!
It is also your responsibility, as the generator, to make sure that the recycler is managing your waste appropriately. You need to ask questions about how the computers are being recycling before you choose a recycling service. Recently, controversial practices related to shipping computer components overseas for recycling has been in the news, due to the lack of health and safety protocols in place to perform this activity. The private group who investigated these practices was able to attribute the computers sent there to specific government agencies due to the presence of property tags still on the equipment. You need to ask for assurance that your recycling will complete all aspects of the demanufacturing process domestically to avoid this problem. Under the UNICOR MOU, Federal Prison Industries will be required to report on their environmental, health and safety practices annually.
Property Management Regulations Applicable to Computer Disposal and Donation:
Federal Resources for Computer Recycling: