Recycling Program Keeps Computers Out of Landfills

By Cat Lazaroff

PALO ALTO, California, May 23, 2001 (ENS) - A new service that allows U.S. consumers and businesses to conveniently recycle unwanted computers and equipment from any manufacturer without adding to landfills was announced by computer maker Hewlett Packard on Monday.


Junked computers, a view of the heap (Photos courtesy Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition)
The service is part of Hewlett Packard's Planet Partners Program, which includes a broad range of environmental and recycling initiatives. Accessed via the Web at, the service created by Hewlett Packard (HP) includes pickup, transportation, evaluation for reuse or donation, and environmentally sound recycling for products ranging from personal computers and printers to servers and scanners. Pricing is based on the quantity and type of product to be returned.

Computers pose a major disposal problem because of the toxic materials used in their construction. Because even the best landfills can leak liquids and gases into the environment, the chemical and metal byproducts of discarded computers can end up contaminating soil, groundwater and air.

"Experts estimate that by the year 2004, the U.S. will have over 315 million obsolete computers, many of which will be destined for landfills, incinerators or hazardous waste exports," states the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC), a grassroots group targeting the environmental and human health problems caused by the electronics industry. "Fewer than 10 percent of the high-tech machines are now recycled."

Modern electronic computer equipment includes more than 1,000 different materials, including lead and cadmium in computer circuit boards, lead oxide and barium in computer monitors' cathode ray tubes, mercury in switches and flat screens, and brominated flame retardants on printed circuit boards, cables and plastic casing, photo-active and biologically active materials, acids, according to the coalition which has its headquarters in San Jose, where many of the major information technology companies are located.


Computers are full of brominated flame-retardants
"Electronic equipment is one of the largest known sources of heavy metals, toxic materials and organic pollutants in municipal trash waste," said Leslie Byster of Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

Under Hewlett Packard's program, all computer equipment received will first be evaluated for reuse. Functioning products will be donated to charitable organizations that accept used equipment or will enter into other reuse channels.

The remaining equipment will be recycled through a process designed to maximize product re-use and material recovery.

"This Planet Partners take back program is a reflection of HP's heritage of social responsibility," said Renee St. Denis, manager of HP's environmental business unit. "We're giving people an easy to use, environmentally sound option for disposing of their used computer electronics equipment."

The computer products take-back service is a response to a growing trend. According to the National Safety Council, the number of personal computers (PCs) that are deemed obsolete in 2002 will exceed the number of new PCs shipped.


A volunteer retrieves computer equipment from a dump.
PCs are only one category of the vast quantity of computer products that are replaced or become obsolete every year. Yet there are few environmentally sound options for consumers and businesses to recycle unneeded equipment.

To address the issue, HP selected Micro Metallics Corporation, a subsidiary of Noranda Inc., a Canadian mining and metals company, to work with HP to develop a one of a kind process that evaluates incoming equipment, redeploys working equipment, extracts parts that can be reused and recycles remaining products and components.

The $4 million processing line includes specially designed shredders to grind equipment into pieces the size of a quarter. From there, a series of separators and magnets pull out the component metals and plastics for recycling.

HP and Noranda collaboratively manage and operate the facility where the recycling process takes place in Roseville, California. The facility currently processes up to four million pounds a month of used equipment from HP and other corporate customers' facilities.

HP and Noranda are planning to open a similar facility in Nashville, Tennessee, in July.

junked computers

Today, it is often cheaper to buy a new computer than it is to upgrade an older model.
"I commend HP for taking this leadership role. HP has recognized computer electronics end of life as an important issue that needs to be addressed," said Michael Paparian, a member of the California Integrated Waste Management Board. "This is an important first step in the long term solution to the challenges poised by electronic waste."

A similar take back service will be offered in major European countries beginning June 1 and in Canada later this year. Programs will also be developed in Latin America and Asia in response to customer needs.

Earlier this month, the European Parliament passed a law requiring manufacturers of electrical and electronic equipment to reduce hazardous substances and to pay for the recycling of their products. The law covers practically every electrical item, including personal computers.

"The new European law sets high standards for producer responsibility and tougher requirements for attaining higher recycling rates," said Byster of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. "If the high-tech companies in Europe can follow the directive, there is no reason to believe that they can't follow the same practices in the U.S. and elsewhere."