When it comes to e-waste and electronics recycling, the U.S. is making strides, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. As of 2019, almost 54 million metric tons (more than 119,000 pounds) of e-waste were generated around the globe, yet just over 17% was properly recycled. When e-waste like laptops makes it into a landfill, it releases toxic items like lead and mercury into the environment.

Laptops are one of the most common forms of e-waste. In general, laptops are designed to last no more than five years. You might get longer from that, but the components become older and harder to update, which creates security risks and painfully slow processing times.

The U.S. Census reports that 92% of the U.S. population has at least one computer at home. It could be a desktop, but laptops are popular. In many homes, each member of the family has a laptop. Forbes found that 87% of the people they surveyed use a laptop at work rather than a desktop. Some use both.

What’s in a Laptop That’s Worth Recycling?

When you have a laptop that’s no longer being used or doesn’t work, all of these components are sitting there being wasted. While different manufacturers have preferences for the materials, these could all be in your laptop’s drives, memory, case, keyboard, circuits, transistors, capacitors, etc.

  • Aluminum – Generates excessive heat in a landfill, which increases the risk of gases like ammonia forming with other trash
  • Boron – Impedes fetal development
  • Cobalt – Carcinogenic
  • Copper – Impacts human health in large quantities
  • Gold – Mining impacts the environment
  • Hafnium – Metal dust can increase the risk of a fire
  • Iron – High levels impact heart and liver health
  • Nickel – Linked to certain diseases including cancer
  • Palladium – Impacts kidney, liver, and bone marrow health
  • Plastics – Microplastics being found in organs and blood clots
  • Silicon – Can impact lung health
  • Silver – Can trigger breathing issues
  • Zinc – Too much causes nausea and vomiting

When you recycle a laptop, you’re recovering materials that would otherwise have to be manufactured or mined. Both of which increase pollution and damage to the environment.

Laptops that end up in a landfill could end up leaching materials into the groundwater and soil. While landfills are lined, it hasn’t been hundreds of years yet. No one knows if a liner will last longer than the slow degradation of a laptop. It’s important to keep your company’s laptops from going to the trash. E-waste recycling is also legally required in many states.

Preparing Your Company’s Laptops for Recycling

Before you recycle your laptops, you need to get them ready for recycling. Start by backing up any important files. Do not do anything else until you have backed up your files and know the backup was successful.

Next, you want to wipe the device to completely erase data. The level to which data is wiped will vary. A marketing company may not need to wipe data to the same level a hospital does. A military office usually requires the highest level of data destruction.

Once that’s done, remove the battery pack if you can. Remove charging cables, cases, and add-on components like a wireless mouse. They can be recycled separately if the e-waste company you choose doesn’t take them.

What Happens to Your Recycled Laptops?

What happens when your laptop is recycled? It’s a multi-stage process. It starts by breaking it down to look at what’s inside.

If there are parts that are still in good shape and could be used in refurbished laptops, they’re valued and set aside. The remaining parts of the computer are put through giant shredders. The glass, plastic, and metal pieces are separated for recycling. They’ll be melted down and reused.

In many plants that is done through a conveyor belt system that passes under large magnets. Magnets attract the metal components and are moved to a separate bin. Plastic floats in water and glass sinks, which makes them easy to separate. Sometimes, hand sorting is used, especially with larger pieces. 

Employees are trained in the correct way to recycle these items in ways that protect the environment and recover as many materials as possible. The goal of laptop recycling is to avoid having anything end up in the trash. When you choose an R2 and eStewards certified recycling partner, you know the environment and people around the globe are protected.

Alternatives to Recycling That Are Worthwhile

Instead of recycling your laptop, you could donate it to a local charity or bring it to a retailer like Goodwill, but that comes with risks. 

If you’re donating your work laptops to a charity, you must be completely certain that data is wiped. Restoring to factory settings isn’t enough. There’s still the chance your data could be accessed by someone who knows what they’re doing.

You need to follow laws, especially if you store PII like credit cards, dates of birth, or SSNs. If you’re a medical office, HIPAA laws apply. Invest in professional data destruction before you donate anything.

You can still have your items refurbished for reuse. You just need to work with an e-recycling company that partners with organizations like Goodwill or the Salvation Army.

Tips for Choosing an E-Waste Recycling Partner

The cheapest isn’t always the best. If someone quotes a ridiculously low price, ask where they send your business laptops for recycling. They might be shipping them to another country to save money. That country doesn’t have strict e-waste recycling rules, so you have places using child labor to do it as cheaply as possible. 

Look for a laptop recycling partner who is certified by R2, eStewards, NAID, and OSHA. Those are all important certifications to hold. They provide you with the assurance that items are recycled in an environmentally responsible way while also protecting your privacy and security. Plus, they assure you that the recycling facility’s workers are protected from harm.

Ideally, find a partner that will destroy data at your company and provide real-time tracking information so that you never have to question where your laptops are. You also want to have documentation that proves you recycled your business laptops correctly and that data destruction and protection of the customer’s PII was a top priority.

ERI recycles all laptops in one of their eight facilities. Nothing is sent overseas, and data security is taken seriously. If your item still has value, we wipe data before it’s refurbished. Use the money you recover to pay for the e-recycling services you choose from ERI.

If you need higher levels of data destruction, we offer all levels, including data destruction of classified and top-secret materials. Reach out to us to learn more about having data destruction performed at your place of business if that’s ideal or how to have your laptops transported to one of our processing facilities.