Upcycle or Recycle Your Old Non-Working PC or Laptop

Updated on October 16, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

Science graduate and business advisor, health educator and author, Beth writes on a wide variety of subjects.

What can you do with an obsolete computer monitor and keyboard? Rehome, repurpose, or recycle.
What can you do with an obsolete computer monitor and keyboard? Rehome, repurpose, or recycle. | Source

4 Ways to Dispose of Your Old Working or Broken Machine

  1. Give away or sell your old working computer.
  2. Harvest useable parts to repair your current model.
  3. Break up the old broken computer for resale or reuse.
  4. Recover gold and other precious metals.

Uses For Old PCs, Apple Macs and Laptops

Many of us have grown used to a “throw-away society”. When a brand new computer model is advertised, it is easy to be lured into buying it. It is faster, smarter, handles data more securely, and gives greater access to the cloud. The list of valid reasons to upgrade is long. You justify your buying choice by convincing yourself your old computer is obsolete and you need to get rid of it.

Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to update to the newest technology. For them, an older model is still valuable. For someone who does not own one, any computer is better than none at all.

Do not rush to throw away your old PC, Apple Mac or laptop. Working or not, older machines can find a new home. If it is still in working order, new software can be downloaded. Non-working computers are also useful. They can be cannibalized (broken up) and used for spare parts.

Old PCs are large and heavy like this IBM 3270 PC, but they may still be of use to someone.
Old PCs are large and heavy like this IBM 3270 PC, but they may still be of use to someone. | Source

1. If It’s Still Working, Give Away or Sell Your Old Computer

Your first option is to see whether your old PC or laptop can be used by anyone else in its present state. You can either try to sell it or you can be generous and give it away for nothing to someone who needs it. In some countries, donating your computer to a charitable cause is an allowable tax deduction.

If you are willing to donate, check out your local goodwill and charity stores. Some of them will accept it if it is working order. However, many will not take electrical items for safety reasons. Ask at your local school or community center to see if they know anyone who can make use of your old computer. Many poorer families would be pleased to receive a gift of a working machine.

Selling your computer might sound an attractive option, but older Apple Macs, PCs and laptops have very low resale values. In fact, some companies will charge you a fee for them to take the machine off your hands.

You can try selling it online either through an auction site like eBay or direct to a second-hand dealer. Either way be prepared to be offered a low price, often less than US $50. The video below gives details of what to watch out for when selling your old computer or laptop online.

Two Ways to Sell Your Old or Broken Laptop Online

2. Harvest Usable Parts For Repair or Reuse

If you are technically minded and enjoy doing DIY, use the working parts of your Mac, laptop or PC to repair old machines or adapt your current one. Computers consist of many parts and some are more useful than others. In summary the components are as follows.

  • Battery pack
  • Power supply cable and connector
  • RAM memory sticks
  • Hard drive
  • Optical drive
  • CMOS battery
  • Display monitor
  • CPU

Of these, the display monitor and CPU probably have the best resale value, although it depends on the age and model of your machine. If you have the right skills, it is possible to make budget upgrades with recycled parts. An example is given in the video below where an old display monitor is adapted to provide a DIY portable secondary screen for a laptop.

Build a DIY Screen Out of Recycled Parts

3. Break Up Your Broken Not-Working Computer for Parts

You now know your old computer has virtually no resale value, but you lack the skills for a project like the one in the video above. You can still harvest the parts for other creative projects. Some suggestions are:

  • Make a digital picture frame.
  • Harvest your broken machines for usable parts, then build a new one bit by bit.
  • Buy some cheap RAM, format and upgrade your old PC.
  • Sell the usable parts online as spares on eBay or a similar website.
  • Use it a learning kit. Take your computer apart to understand how it is constructed.

The video below shows you how to take apart a PC and create something useful from it. One man’s trash is another’s treasure.

How To Revive an Old PC

4. Recover Gold and Other Precious Metals

Computers contain measurable amounts of gold and other rare elements. There are videos on YouTube demonstrating the method and chemicals required to recover the gold at home. The process uses dangerous liquids like nitric and other acids. Cyanide is produced as a by-product of the recovery procedure. It is a hazardous and risky project to undertake at home and the financial reward is small.

Eric Limer says (Popular Mechanics March 1st 2016) that "Gold is an incredible conductor of electricity, which is why it's used as a coating in a lot of electronics, especially parts where data transfer happens like RAM. What if you could get a handful of this old computer crap and rip the gold right off? … Best case scenario might net you $10 and that's almost certainly less than the cost of refining materials."

He concludes it is better to give your old PCs, Apple Macs and laptops to a commercial company for recycling. They have the facilities to recover the gold and other rare and precious metals in safety and in large enough quantities to make it a viable operation.

How Computer Recycling Works

Remove Hard Drive Before Recycling or Disposal of Computer

The hard drive is a record of all the data on your computer. Over a lifetime of use, you have input a large amount of confidential information; credit card numbers, bank accounts, and website log-ins and passwords. You must destroy this record before you sell or give away your machine. Otherwise criminals could make use of your personal details.

This private information can remain on the hard drive even if it has been "erased" or reformatted. Snapguide.com recommends the following steps to ensure that your data is completely erased.

“You must destroy the magnetic platter inside the hard drive.

  1. Remove the main circuit board from the enclosure.
  2. Open the enclosure using a screwdriver and hammer to prize it open.
  3. Wear eye protection and repeatedly strike the hard drive on various sides until it starts to open. When open, coax out the round silver platter from inside.
  4. Ding, dent, and scratch this platter. You don't need to swing like an axe murderer, many lighter taps with both the claw and peen of the hammer should destroy the hard drive sufficiently.

When done, box up all components and turn them in at your local electronics recycling center.”

A selection of RAM memory cards clearly showing metals which can be recovered.
A selection of RAM memory cards clearly showing metals which can be recovered. | Source

Be Environmentally Responsible and Recycle Old Electronics

If you live in the US, check out the website of the Environmental Protection Agency for your nearest electronic recycling facility. Please don’t just put your unwanted PCs and laptops into general household waste for disposal to landfill.

In the UK, recycling is carried out by local councils. Not all civic amenity (waste disposal) sites accept electronic waste, so check with your local authority to find the nearest appropriate facility.

Your beloved Apple laptop may be for the chop when newer, faster models are produced.
Your beloved Apple laptop may be for the chop when newer, faster models are produced. | Source

Useful Websites For Donating or Recycling Old Computers

The National Christina Foundation accepts donations of pre-owned computers and similar technology. The machines are checked over and then given to individuals with special needs to help them lead more independent lives.

The World Computer Exchange is a non-profit that connects those that have unwanted computers with those that need them. The charity operates in 48 countries and provides internet skills and technology to youth in underprivileged communities.


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