Everyday, one PC becomes obsolete and no longer used for every PC that is placed on the market for sale. When you consider that millions of desktop PCs – not to mention handheld and laptop computers, plus cell phones and other consumer electronics – are sold each year, the number that end up in landfills is staggering. Also, it’s been estimated that perhaps as many as two-thirds of all computers ever manufactured still await some type of disposal, which means that they have never made it into any type of recorded waste statistic.
PCs present a special challenge because their hardware is, by design, quite toxic. A standard monitor along with standard televisions can come packed with up to 10 pounds of lead and other heavy metals. Some of the other nasty elements include mercury and nickel-cadmium. All of these are treated as poison by the human body. If ingested, they can cause all manner of health problems, including central nervous system damage. Lead, for example, has no way to leave the human body once it finds it way into it. So an affected person forever must live with the toxin.
These systems may also contain arsenic, cobalt, zinc, germanium, as well as aluminum, copper, and titanium plus gold. Even more toxic materials can be used to clean printed circuit boards like the motherboard and the adapters like modems and video installed onto the motherboard.
Yet, when we toss an old PC in a dumpster, we send it off to a landfill where the PC will lie there, being rained upon and watered down, while its toxic elements begin to leech into the ground and get picked up by ground water that is carried out to the surrounding countryside and then to larger waterways as well as water storage and treatment facilities which aren’t geared toward removing this degree of heavy metals. No home water filter is going to be able to handle the kind of vile soup that can find its way into an otherwise normal looking glass of water. This becomes a greater possibility with each passing day as more and more computers wind up at landfills here and across the world.
Incineration isn’t the answer here. After all, many PCs are at least 25% plastic. The kind of plastics used, when burned, can produce a form of dioxin which can kill quickly and horribly or slowly and terribly.
All too often, communities here in the U.S. are just shifting the problem away from American landfills. In fact, just as many whole PCs as well as individual components come from Asia, it’s ironic to discover that many junked computers actually wind up back there in huge salvage yards where workers, including small children, strip the systems of elements and small parts that can be put into service elsewhere. Although this is an extremely dirty job, few workers seem to wear any protective gear, not even gloves or face masks.
Instead of junking, consider finding and using computer and consumer electronics recycling centers. Many states as well as counties and individual communities have set these up to take antiquated or dead systems that would otherwise be bound for landfills. Depending on the arrangements they make, the material collected is then sent to recycling firms to try to turn junk into next year’s model. In some places, this drop off is free; in others, you may pay a per-part fee of one to five dollars. You also need to know if there is a law in place making it illegal to dump hazardous waste, as a PC may be considered, in local landfills. If so, you really have no alternative but to seek recycling efforts.
You also find many computer and component manufacturers have programs to take back their used equipment once you are done with it. Often, all you have to pay is the shipping and a few manufacturers will even pick up that cost.