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Laptop Recycling

The average lifespan of laptops (and most other electronics, for that matter) is not as long as it once was. The typical user swaps out their laptop every 3-5 years for the newer generation as it emerges into the highly competitive market. It’s not just about wanting the latest and greatest; newer software tends to demand more of its hardware, so if you want to use your favorite apps and tools, you can’t afford to be behind the tech times.

So when it’s finally time to retire your old laptop and upgrade to a better model, consider recycling it!

Laptop recycling is simultaneously a data security issue and an environmental one.

Here are some of the most common questions and concerns regarding laptop recycling:

What is Laptop Recycling?

Laptop recycling is the process by which a certified recycling entity prepares unwanted laptops for a new life, by dismantling them and re-using the parts; refurbishing them for resale; and/or destroying them to recover the materials they’re made of (metal, plastic, glass, etc.) to make those materials available for use in the manufacturing cycle.

Laptop recycling also includes data destruction. Data destruction can be accomplished by digital means (wiping and re-writing hard drives to remove all data) or physical (shredding hard drives to make data access impossible and recover the material).

The data destruction part of recycling is important and should not be overlooked. Cohen’s electronics division, Cobalt, maintains R2 certification, which requires documented data destruction and security practices.

>> Learn more: Why R2 Certification Matters, at trustcobalt.com

Which Parts of a Laptop are Recyclable?

In whole or in part, the entirety of a laptop is recyclable. 

From glass, to metal, to plastic, to batteries, most materials that make up the laptop can prove to be valuable and used to create new products with the same properties. Strictly speaking, this is the only process that qualifies as “recycling.” 

Some laptop parts like circuit boards (motherboards), processors, graphics cards, and hard drives are more valuable if they’re refurbished and sold to be re-used instead of scrapped for raw material. This is referred to as resale or remarketing. There is a growing interest in and market for refurbished equipment as individuals and organizations alike look to reduce waste and pay less for hardware.

Reuse, refurbishment, and recycling are all legitimate, safe ways to dispose of unwanted laptops. 

Is it Illegal to Throw Laptops in the Trash?

In many states, the law prohibits residents from throwing away laptops and other electronic waste (or e-waste) with the rest of their trash. Laptops, computer speakers, keyboards, and other accessories contain harmful compounds and materials that aren’t permitted in landfills, for good reason.

For example, brominated flame retardant prevents the equipment from overheating during the operating process, but in landfills, it seeps off and mixes into the soil. As this chemical accumulates in soil and water, it negatively impacts the plants, animals, and people who rely on a clean environment. 

Batteries are another major concern. Batteries can be found in many small devices these days, and even the battery on a singing birthday card can ignite a garbage truck or processing facility if it gets crushed. Batteries can be recycled separately from laptops.

Good to know: laptops and their accessories contain many hazardous materials such as lead, or potentially dangerous components such as batteries. Laptops and other electronics must be recycled responsibly to protect the environment from damage and protect the previous owner from liability. 

Wires, Cables & Cords: Are They Recyclable as Well?

Yes. All of the cables and cords that you use with your laptop, including the power cord, audio cables, peripherals like a keyboard and mouse, A/V and HDMI cables, and pretty much anything else that you can plug in, are all recyclable. Cords like these contain copper, and sometimes steel or aluminum, that can be recycled and used to make new products.

Where Can I Take My Old Laptop for Recycling?

You can bring your old laptop and its accessories to a qualified electronics recycler in your area. However, once again, you cannot dispose of your laptop along with the rest of your trash, or take it to a landfill. Many states and municipalities are making it illegal to throw away laptops and other electronics, and traditional waste management providers are declining to take them because of the dangers and liabilities they present. 

You may also opt to donate or resell your laptop yourself, but beware: it’s easier and easier these days for hackers to get information off of old devices, even if you think you deleted everything. If you’re concerned about data destruction, the smart thing is to go through a certified electronics recycler. They may even be able to help you donate your laptop after it’s been sanitized of data.

When Did Laptop & Computer Recycling Begin?

Around a decade ago, laptop and computer recycling became an international environmental initiative. As evidence surfaced that e-waste was causing increasing damage to our environment, Dell and other important computer and monitor manufacturers developed programs that allowed customers to bring their old, unused, and broken machinery to their facilities for recycling. However, subsidies for these programs have been declining in most states, and consumers have been left with fewer convenient choices for getting rid of old laptops. 

In the earlier days of electronics recycling, many units were getting sent overseas where it cost less to process them for recycling. Unfortunately, those lower costs were explained by lack of regulation or supervision over how those electronics were handled, and the health and environmental impact was conveniently ignored. Amid mounting evidence showing the damage and danger of these electronics “graveyards,” tighter restrictions were placed on the export of e-waste. Sadly, some exporting continued, with bad actors hiding e-waste among other shipments.

Back home, other so-called recyclers faced bankruptcy and fines when it was discovered that they were burying electronics underground or leaving massive stockpiles of them unprocessed. It’s likely that these recyclers were attracted to the potential for financial reward from the materials found in electronics, especially precious metals like gold, and did not count on the processing costs of responsible recycling. 

Reputable electronics recyclers take extra precautions to safely dispose of all harmful materials in the equipment throughout the entire recycling process. Cohen is dual certified by the recycling industry’s leading standards for quality, environmental health and safety: R2 and RIOS. 

What Size of Computers & Laptops Are Accepted?

Cohen and most other recycling companies will accept any size and brand of laptops. The size, weight, and condition of the laptops will determine the monetary value.

A damaged laptop can be recycled, but fees may apply if the laptop has a cracked screen, missing keys, or other major flaws that reduce its value.

Can I Recycle My Printer Too?

Yes! Like laptops, printers are made of recyclable materials. Read more about printer recycling here.

What is Data Destruction?

Data destruction, also known as sanitization, is the process for completely removing any trace of information from a digital storage device, such as a hard drive. It is the most efficient way to protect against liability.

$83 billion: That’s the estimated annual cost of data security around the globe in an increasingly digital world. And while viruses, scammers, hackers, and leaks typically get the most attention, many organizations tend to overlook the risks posed by the computers and laptops they no longer use.

Cohen’s electronics division, Cobalt, is the premier certified provider of secure data destruction for decommissioned electronics. Cobalt handles all electronics processed through Cohen recycling centers, as well as providing enterprise services for businesses with retired IT hardware, including on-site hard drive shredding. Businesses can learn more about responsibly retiring their hardware assets (and recovering value from those assets) by visiting TrustCobalt.com.