Solutions to Computer Recycling Roadblocks

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Recycling computers is a win-win situation — you get rid of something you’re no longer using, freeing up closet or drawer space, and someone else gets a refurbished computer at an affordable price, or the parts are taken and used to make something new. Yet many people let their used desktops and laptops languish. And finding solutions to computer recycling can be tricky. We recently polled Earth911 readers on this subject, asking: “What is the top factor that keeps you from recycling your unused computers?” Here’s how they responded:

  • 41%: I am concerned my personal information won’t be properly removed from the hard drive and may be compromised.
  • 35%: I don’t know where to bring my computer for recycling.
  • 11%: I don’t have time to properly recycle them, so I feel it is better to hold onto them.
  • 9%: I think the computers will be shipped overseas and disassembled by underage, underpaid individuals in unsafe conditions.
  • 4%: I am concerned I might have to pay a fee.
Confused about computer recycling? You're not the only one. Photo: Shutterstock

Confused about computer recycling? You’re not the only one. Photo: Shutterstock

To help combat these concerns, we spoke with representatives involved in the Dell Reconnect program, which allows people to recycle their computers for free at more than 2,000 Goodwill locations throughout North America.

Solutions to Computer Recycling

Concern #1: I am concerned my personal information won’t be properly removed from the hard drive and may be compromised.
Most computer recycling centers cannot accept liability for lost or confidential data or software, meaning you are responsible for backing up any valuable information and erasing sensitive data from the hard drive before dropping your computer off.

“We definitely recommend and encourage folks that donate to our Dell Reconnect program to wipe their computers before they bring them in,” says Bradd Hafer, assistant director of marketing and communications at Discover Goodwill of Southern & Western Colorado. “We want them to take that initiative.”

This is something you can either tackle yourself or hire a data professional to do for you, depending on your comfort level. There are a number of programs online (many of which are free) that will overwrite your data with meaningless information to make it unreadable. The more times you write over the files, the more secure they are.​

Concern #2: I don’t know where to bring my computer for recycling.
You’ve come to the right place. Earth911 has a recycling search that shows you all the places in your area that recycle various items, including computers. If you’re specifically looking to participate in Dell Reconnect’s program, you can search here — most U.S. states have a location.

Concern #3: I don’t have time to properly recycle them, so I feel it is better to hold onto them.
Donating doesn’t have to be a lengthy process, and it usually isn’t. “Most of our donation centers are drive-in-and-drop-off operations, so you don’t even have to get out of your car — an attendant will take computers out of your trunk or backseat for you,” Hafer says. “We make it extremely easy and efficient for consumers to donate. The average stopover for anyone is about 60 seconds, and it could be quicker than that even.”

Don't let your computers stack up because you aren't sure where to take them. Photo: Shutterstock

Don’t let your computers stack up because you aren’t sure where to take them. Photo: Shutterstock

Concern #4: I think the computers will be shipped overseas and disassembled by underage, underpaid individuals in unsafe conditions.
This is a valid concern, and one worth investigating. At Goodwill Industries of Denver, a Dell Reconnect partner, they’ve made a commitment to keep everything as local as possible.

“We have a program where we employ people who have disabilities or some sort of barrier to employment to help deconstruct the computers,” says Vanessa Clark, senior director of marketing. “We are employing people in our local community and teaching them a really valuable job skill to work with electronics.”

Then, when the computer parts are sent off to Dell, the company has policies in place that prohibit non-working computers from being sent overseas to end up in a landfill. That way, your good deed of recycling doesn’t turn into a bad deed of polluting.

In fact, in 2009, Dell was the first in the industry to ban the export of non-working electronics to developing countries and makes every reasonable effort to minimize electronic waste from entering landfills.

Concern #5: I am concerned I might have to pay a fee.
Many companies do charge a fee to recycle computers, but there are no-cost options available. In addition to Dell Reconnect, which is a free program that accepts any brand of computer in any condition all year, many communities have drop-off days that allow you to dispose of electronics legally and safely. Some manufacturers also offer mail-in programs for their own products.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock

Editor’s Note: Earth911 partners with many industries, manufacturers and organizations to support its Recycling Directory, the largest in the nation, which is provided to consumers at no cost. Dell Reconnect is one of these partners.

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Haley Shapley

Haley Shapley is based in Seattle, where recycling is just as cool as Macklemore, walking in the rain without an umbrella, and eating locally sourced food. She writes for a wide range of national and regional publications, covering everything from sustainability and health to travel and retail.