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Recycle Ideas for Your Old Computer or Laptop

I love searching for bargains at yard sales, and thrift stores, but as fast as I donate items, I buy new ones.

Time for a new computer?

Time for a new computer?

What Can You Do With a Dead Computer?

Here are four environmentally-friendly ways to get rid of an old computer.

  1. Give away or sell your old laptop or PC if it's still working.
  2. If not working, harvest usable parts to repair your current model.
  3. Break up the old broken computer for resale or reuse.
  4. Recover gold and other precious metals for recycling.

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 donate it free to someone who needs it. In some countries, giving your computer to a charitable cause is an allowable tax deduction. If you're 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. To get the best price, list the component parts correctly and add clear photos to your listing.

A computer repair kit enables you to reuse and recycle dead PCs and MACs.

A computer repair kit enables you to reuse and recycle dead PCs and MACs.

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. A low cost computer repair kit like this one come with lots of different types, shapes and sizes of tools that make it easy to do things like replacing a damaged screen. Computers consist of many parts and some are more useful than others; 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.

Things You Can Make From Old, Dead Laptops

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 ones in the video above. You can still harvest the parts for other creative projects. Some suggestions are:

  • 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.

4. Be Environmentally Responsible and Recycle Old Electronics

If you care about the environment, it's important to stop laptops being sent to landfill. It makes more sense to recycle your laptop and get some cash back. This will be a small amount, but anything is better than nothing! There are several companies that do this, and you can find them online by searching for recycle old computers or cash for old laptops. They will ask for details of the laptop you want to sell, and some will give you an instant quote. If you accept their offer, they will organize collection of your PC and send you the money on receipt. However. check online for reviews of each company before proceeding to make sure you're dealing with a reputable organization.

Recycling your laptop is important because if it ends up in a landfill, the problem isn’t solved. Electronics that end up in the trash can become a serious environmental and health hazard.

Electronic devices contain toxic materials like chromium, flame retardants, and lead. These materials have been related to damage to kidneys, blood, and the central nervous system.

When you throw your notebook with household trash, those toxic materials can leak into landfills, reach groundwater, or vaporize.

— Green Citizen website

How Computers Are Recycled

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 to Safely Dispose of Your PC

The hard drive is a record of all the data on your computer. Over a lifetime of use, you will have input a lots of confidential information; credit card numbers, bank accounts, and website log-ins and passwords. This date must be destroyed before you sell or give away the PC in order to prevent criminals making use of it.

This personal and private information can remain on the hard drive even if it has been "erased" or reformatted. To ensure its complete removal you need to destroy the magnetic platter inside the hard drive.

  1. Use a screwdriver and hammer to prize open the back of the computer, and remove the main circuit board from its enclosure.
  2. Wear eye protection and strike the hard drive on various sides until it starts to open. When open, remove the round silver platter from inside.
  3. Ding, dent, and scratch this platter. Physically damage the disk to destroy the hard drive effectively.
  4. When done, box up all components and dispose of them at your local recycling center.

Where Can You Recycle Computers and 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.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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