The manufacture of an average desktop PC and monitor requires around 1.8 tons of raw material, including at least 240 kilograms of fossil fuels, 22 kilograms of chemicals and 2,500 kilograms of water. The weight of these components is about the same as an average car. (“Computers and the Environment: Understanding and Managing their Impacts,” by the United Nations University, 2004)

From 1997 to 2007, it is estimated that 500 million personal computers – two for each person in the country – will become obsolete. (National Recycling Coalition, 1999)

Although landfilling computers is still legal in Illinois, computer waste contains a number of hazardous materials. According to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, computers include arsenic, mercury, and also several pounds of lead in every monitor. (See link in “web resources,” at end.)

Nothing “goes away”; it is simply transferred from place to place, converted from one molecular form to another, acting on the life processes of any organism in which it becomes, for a time, lodged. One of the chief reasons for the present environmental crisis is that great amounts of material have been extracted from the earth, converted into new forms, and discharged into the environment without taking into account that “everything has to go somewhere.” The result, too often, is the accumulation of harmful amounts of material in places where, in nature, they do not belong.

-Barry Commoner, The Closing Circle, 1971


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Recycling and reuse options

Given the huge amount of natural resources and energy it takes to create new computer equipment, the most environmentally responsible action you can take is to delay replacing it and instead extend its useful life through upgrading its memory and storage space. Once those options are no longer sufficient for your needs, try donating the computer, particularly if it is only a few years old. Here are several options.

National Cristina Foundation is a nationwide clearinghouse for computer reuse that partners with a network of local not-for-profit groups. It was founded to give people with disabilities or economic disadvantages access to high quality computing tools. To donate, simply fill out their on-line form, and they will find the best match for your computer with a Chicago-based organization. Besides on-line, they can be reached at (203) 863-9100 .

Assistive Technology Exchange Network (ATEN) This is a program of United Cerebral Palsy Association, where computers are refurbished and then sent to schools throughout Illinois to help children with disabilities. ATEN handles about 3,600 computers a year, refurbishing computers on-site, and recycling the unusable components. Recipient schools are either public or if private, for kids who are covered through public funds. Free pickup of 4 computers or more. Looking for Pentium and above, MacPower PC and up, hard drives, cdrom, adaptive equipment, educational software, color VGA monitors and up. 7550 W. 183rd St., Tinley Park 60477. (708) 444-2836 .

Computers for Schools This non-profit organization in Chicago accepts private and corporate computer donations, refurbishes the equipment, and makes them available to schools and other nonprofits, both in the city and the suburbs. Free pickup of 10 computers or more. Computers are refurbished on-site, and unusable equipment is recycled. Looking for Pentium III 600 MHz or better and all types of accessory equipment. 3053 N Knox, Chicago, IL 60641. (773) 545-7575 .

If the computer doesn't warrant re-use, then recycling is the next option. Here are several possibilities. (Prices listed for recycling services are subject to change by the provider. Always check first.)

Computer collection events. In addition to Chicago’s permanent collection facility, listed at the top of this page, there are several collection days held each year by the city, in conjunction with the Illinois EPA. Computers and other electronic equipment can be dropped off free of charge, but electronics from commercial sources are not accepted. Dates and locations for collections in the Chicago area can be found on the IEPA website link, under “web resources,” below. Or call the Illinois EPA Waste Reduction Unit at (217) 785-8604 or the City of Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation at (312) 744-4611.

Illinois EPA Household Hazardous Waste Collection Schedule

Intercon Solutions This local company has been certified under stringent environmental standards (ISO 14001) for its disassembly and recycling of computers. For modest fees, listed on its website, computer components (and a number of other electronics) can be shipped back to Intercon’s facility in Chicago Ridge. (Shipping charges, in addition to fees, paid by customer.)

MRK Group LTD Founded in 1991, this Elgin company works with corporations, educational and governmental Institutions around the country in managing their excess and obsolete technology and optimizing their return on the assets. On the last Friday of every month home users may drop off any older computer equipment they would like to have recycled responsibly at no charge. There is a 10 item limit per customer.  Any items above 10 pieces will be charged normal recycling rates. Go to the website for hours and location and print a form to take with you when you drop off your equipment.

Staples Office Supply Stores Any used computer, monitor, or printer can be dropped off at any Staples office supply store during regular business hours for a $10 fee. Peripherals such as keyboards, mice, and speakers are accepted for no charge. This is an expansion of the existing program, where customers can drop off cell phones, pagers, digital cameras, and more for free, whether or not they were originally bought at Staples. Call any local store for full list. Website to find nearest store, above.

Sims Recycling Solutions Formerly known as United Recycling Industries. If you deliver your equipment to them, they charge $0.25 per pound to recycle. Open for drop-offs Monday-Friday, 8am - 4pm, with a break for lunch. 16600 Harvester Road, West Chicago, IL 60185 800/323-1574.

Sims also has an e-cycle box program: Sims will supply a box for up to 69 pounds of computer equipment, plus bubble wrap, paper tape for sealing the box and a return label. Once your box has been packed and sealed you can give it to your UPS carrier or drop it off at a local UPS store. $50. Call 800/323-1574 or 630/231-6060 for more details.

Take Back Programs

There are also several fee-based industry-sponsored take-back programs. The companies listed below accept all brands of equipment – not just their own.

Dell Recycling Service The company will recycle any Dell-branded products for free. Or if you buy a new Dell desktop or notebook (and select the free recycling option at the time of purchase), they will recycle your old PC and monitor at no cost to you.

Hewlett Packard Recycling Service HP's program charges per component recycled, from $13-$34 per item.

IBM Recycling Service Big Blue will give you a quote for the cost of recycling your old IBM and other selected equipment.

Finally, watch for occasional take-back events at retail electronics stores. Most are well publicized as they encourage you to not only bring in old equipment, but (of course) buy new.