When it comes to recycling laptops, even one makes a big difference — recycling one million laptops saves enough energy to power 3,500 U.S. homes for an entire year, according to the EPA. Plus, the inside of your computer contains valuable metals like gold, silver, and platinum that can be recovered and reused. The easiest way to make sure your computer is properly recycled is to take it to a local retailer with a computer recycling program. To find one near you, check out our Recycling Locator at the bottom of this page. Before recycling your computer, here are a few preparation steps:
- Remove all data from your computer to prevent identity theft. You may want to back up important files on an external hard drive.
- Unplug the computer peripherals (keyboard, speakers, etc.) from your desktop or laptop. You can likely recycle these parts as well using the same company where you take the machine, but consider reusing them or donating them since they won’t need a software upgrade to work on a new computer.
- For a laptop, flip it over and see if you can remove the battery. Many laptops use lithium-ion batteries, which require special transportation for recycling, so this is especially important if using a manufacturer mail-back program.
Frequent Computer Recycling Questions
Can I recycle computers in my curbside recycling program?
It’s highly unlikely that your curbside recycling program accepts computers, even if it collects “scrap metal.” Computers are bulky and made up of multiple materials, so you’ll definitely want to check before putting them in the recycling bin. If your area offers bulky waste recycling, computers may be accepted, but it’s a good idea to verify that they’ll be responsibly recycled.
What are the computer recycling certifications I should be asking about?
The two most common computer recycling certifications for North American recyclers are the Basel Action Network’s (BAN) e-Stewards and Sustainable Electronics Recycling International’s (SERI) R2 Standard. BAN has been certifying recyclers since 2006 to ensure that no electronics are exported overseas. R2 (originally R2 Solutions) has been around since 2008, and focuses more on certifying the recycling process and data destruction. There are hundreds of computer recyclers that aren’t e-Stewards or R2 certified, but if you’re wanting to recycle with one of these certified companies, you can find a directory of them at e-stewards.org and sustainableelectronics.org.
Do any retailers offer computer recycling?
Yes. Staples has been recycling computers since 2007, and Best Buy followed suit in 2008. Both stores accept desktops and laptops, as well as components like keyboards, mice and speakers. They don’t accept software, though.
What should I do before recycling computers?
You definitely want to remove any personal data from your computers before recycling. For laptops, you should also remove the battery (if it can be removed) prior to recycling because there are special transportation requirements for lithium-ion batteries. The recycler may need to use a separate process to recycle these.
Should I try to upgrade my computer instead of recycle?
Upgrading or repairing your technology is definitely an eco-friendly option, but it’s not always available. If you have a PC running Windows Vista (or earlier), you will have a difficult time upgrading to the newer software, and your old software is no longer supported. This means you either need to recycle the old computer, or visit a computer repair business and ask for your motherboard to be upgraded so you can run the newest software. It’s usually cheaper to buy a new computer and recycle the old one.
Is throwing away my computer against the law?
As of 2017, 25 (or half) of U.S. states require you to recycle some forms of electronics. Of those, 17 have banned them from landfills. While in many cases the laws cover only computer monitors (including laptops), the good news is that every time a new law is passed, recycling becomes that much easier for residents in that state. You’ll likely find your city or county offers computer recycling events at least once a year (usually around Earth Day on April 22).
What should I do if I have a large number of computers to recycle?
When you have one computer to recycle, a retailer or mail-back program may be most ideal. But if you have numerous machines, you should ask your office if it can plan a recycling drive. You can call an e-waste recycler to send a truck, promote the event to your neighboring businesses, and recycle all sorts of electronics at once. In many cases, the recycler will pick up your electronics at no charge if enough people participate.
Will the computer manufacturer offer a take-back recycling program?
Most computer manufacturers are now offering take-back recycling, either by partnering with retailers like Best Buy, Goodwill, or Staples, or through a mail-in program. You’ll want to search your manufacturer’s website for details on its specific program. None of the retailers mentioned above exclude certain brands of computers, though.
- How to Protect Your Data Before You Get Rid of Your Computer: Guidance from the Federal Trade Commission to protect your personal information.
- Make a Difference: Donate Your Computer: Find out how donating your computer can help those who need it
- How to Remove Data from Electronics Before Recycling: If you’re worried about the safety of your data, follow these steps and feel secure when donating.