Thursday, May 7, 2009

Old Computers. Trash, Treasure Or Landfill? by: Tommy Gerand

With this ever changing world of computers, more and more old computers are being thrown out, rightfully so. The old computers just can't keep up with today's software, that has been designed for the fastest and latest CPUs, and the most powerful video cards. But what about all that data? Your credit card details, client lists, personal emails? Although chances are if their found at a landfill, they won't be used for malicious purposes, the ease of accessing that data is almost too simple.

Along side that, thousands of old motherboards, video cards, RAM sticks, get thrown out and end up with landfill every year. And even though I'm sounding like a new ageist, the incorrect dumping of computer parts can lead to all sorts of environmental issues, with the plastic used in circuit boards not easily broken down naturally. Monitors in particular have high lead content, which , while encased in the monitor isn't exceptionally dangerous, but when exposed in a situation such as landfill, can pose a danger to nearby waterways and the surrounding environment.

Enter computer recycling. Computer recycling comes in two forms. Destruction and reusing. The destruction of computers parts is done in a contained environment and the plastic is then broken down in a controlled condition. Yes, this means they get big machines to effectively crush and turn what was once your computer, into many thousands of little tiny bits of plastic and metal. They then get this computer mulch, melt it, stretch it, burn it and turn it into different forms. Most of the major computer giants, such as HP and Apple, have recycling centres for the safe destruction of old PCs, however, some are a paid service.

CRT monitors are particularly favorable for destruction with each monitor potentially having up to 3.6kg of lead contained within. The processes are relativity simple, after the recyclable plastic case, metal chassis, yoke, PC board, wire and metal strap are all tediously removed from the monitor. The lead- impregnated tubing is all that's left before it's crushing demise. Even the circuit boards are crushed and recycled, with almost all of the materials being extracted. The extraction process involves various degrees of smelting resulting in lead, tin, gold, and palladium commodities for re-sale, and re-use. The whole process results in almost a 100% diversion rate, leaving only a small percentage that ends up in landfill, and of course, all that potentially dangerous lead is kept away from water supplies.

Re-using PCs is a very viable option. Some PCs get re-used for scientific use (correctly networked together to create a supercomputer) or given to those that can use older technology such as libraries or education centres. Just make sure you delete all the data off the hard drive or, if you know how to pull apart a computer, destroy the hard drive. The thought of handing over your data to a computer tech could be less comforting then throwing it in the trash, even though to comply with privacy legislation, employees have to wipe all data before re-using any computers.

If your going to be pulling the computer apart yourself, be sure to be gentle with your computer parts, always use static free bags, and always discharge yourself of static electricity before handling (touching something large and steel will do the trick).

For places that recycle in Australia ->

About The Author
Tommy Gerand is a techie with an attitude. With over 10 years experience in the IT industry, Tommy has a knowledgeable and interesting view on the world of computers and electronics.