How an Old Computer is Actually Recycled

Posted: May 17, 2021

Regardless of how well a new device or gadget works when it is first acquired, they certainly don’t last forever. Eventually, the time comes that your old technology needs to be replaced, leaving you to dispose of it. This requires more than just a quick trip to the dumpster, however. These devices need to be properly recycled, as many contain hazardous materials.

Let’s take a few moments to look at the process that this old and discarded technology undergoes when it has been recycled properly. But first, let’s briefly go over what kinds of devices now count as “e-waste”, and what about them has the potential to be recycled.

What Qualifies as E-Waste?

Effectively, anything that can be described as an electronic device would become e-waste if it were to break. This includes, of course, the computers and laptops, mobile devices, batteries, drives, monitors, and such things that we all rely on today, but it also lumps in our other appliances, things like air conditioners, televisions, kitchen appliances, radios, fans, and such things.

It isn’t uncommon to hear people complain that things “just don’t last as long as they used to.” While the reasons for this is another can of worms that we won’t be opening, this has contributed to a growing amount of e-waste to contend with. Projections from 2019 estimated that over 52 million tons would be produced annually by this year.

Unfortunately, much of this waste is destined for the landfill. Recent data suggests that only about 20 percent of e-waste around the world is reportedly collected and recycled, the rest presumably winding up buried deep in landfills. This is not good.

Why Should E-Waste Be Recycled?

There are numerous reasons that recycling e-waste is a better alternative to utilizing “fresh” raw materials, in a manner of speaking. First off, let’s consider the types of materials we’re talking about here. You have your metals, like:

  • Iron
  • Tin
  • Aluminum

Accompanying those is a small, yet significant, portion of valuable metals, like:

  • Titanium
  • Gold
  • Silver

Finally, there are plenty of other recyclable materials involved in making these components, including:

  • Plastic
  • Glass

You’d be surprised to hear what can be extracted from your devices through the recycling process. Circuit boards contain recoverable materials like tin, copper, and various valuable metals like gold, silver, and palladium. Hard disks contain aluminum that can be repurposed into creating an automobile. Batteries can have their contents recovered to produce new batteries. This helps us make the most of the resources we have already invested so heavily into procuring, and it creates jobs to boot! Someone needs to take on the responsibility of recycling these materials to be used again, after all.

Furthermore, recycling e-waste helps prevent many of the more hazardous materials incorporated into our devices from being introduced into the natural environment, where it could cause some harm.

How is E-Waste Recycled?

As you might imagine, there is no single procedure for recycling e-waste… there’s simply too many different variables to consider in terms of the materials used and how they have been incorporated into the device in question. Despite this, there is a somewhat uniform process that each of these procedures will follow.

Collection and Transportation

After the electronics to be recycled are gathered in an established place, these materials are brought to the recycling facilities that will process it.

Disassembly and Dispensing

The collected electronics are then shredded—in a very literal sense, broken down to pieces small enough to be sorted by hand, unless the nature of the product means it shouldn’t or can’t be broken down—and sorted out by type.

Dusting, Magnetic Separation, and Water Separation

Next, the shreds are spread out and broken down even more, with all dust produced drawn out and safely discarded. Once this is accomplished, magnets are used to pull out the metallic elements from the rest of the waste along with other methods, with water separation used to pull glass and plastics away from one another.


Finally, any leftover metals are removed from the plastic wastes to ensure that the waste stream remains as pure as possible.

Preparation and Resale

Finally, all the sorted materials are processed back to a more raw state to be reused in the production of new products.

Before You Recycle Your Technology

Before you hand off your older computers, laptops, and mobile devices over to be recycled, donated, or any other track where it leaves your possession, you’ll want to make sure that they are properly wiped of any data. This doesn’t just mean deleting files or reinstalling Windows - it needs to be done so thoroughly that there is no chance your sensitive information can get accessed. Old drives can not only contain files, but your web history, passwords, and plenty of other personal information can be pulled, sometimes even if the drive has already been formatted. You’ll want a professional to handle this for you if you aren’t 100 percent positive how to handle it correctly. 

Fortunately, we can help! Give us a call at (250) 483-5623 before you get rid of your old technology.

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