Kansas City’s link between industry, charity, and the environment.
It’s often cheaper and more convenient to buy a new PC than to upgrade an old one. But what happens to those old computers once they’ve been abandoned for newer models?
More than 3.2 million tons of electronic waste is laid to rest in U.S. landfills each year. Electronics are the fastest-growing part of the world’s trash problem, with an estimated 50 million computers becoming obsolete annually. Over the last decade, nearly two computers for each person in the United States became obsolete. Every day, individuals and organizations dispose of mountains of e-waste, containing hazardous and toxic materials that pose significant environmental risks: CRT monitors with toxic lead oxide that can leach into the ground water; PC-related components & batteries with chromium, nickel, zinc, mercury and other heavy metals; plastic equipment housings that can release dangerous gases if incinerated. The average CRT monitor contains about five pounds of lead oxide powder embedded in the glass. The average sized state has an estimated 4.2 million computers in homes and workplaces. That is equivalent to 315,000 tons of solid waste and 26,000 tons of toxic lead.
Tossing your organization’s end-of-life equipment in the dumpster is simply not an option anymore. De-manufacturing and legitimate recycling, utilizing an authorized electronics recycler is the only way to ensure compliance with the more than 550 state and federal e-waste laws currently on the books. Federal legislation governing electronics recycling includes: the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), and Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA). These laws specify procedures and reporting requirements for any US organization that recycles as little as 220 pounds of e-waste per month. The penalties for improper recycling or inadequate reporting can be severe, up to $32,500 per day.
Responsible organizations have come to realize there is no “free lunch” in IT recycling. Even alternatives like donation or employee purchase carry a risk, because the liability for environmental hazards may fall back on the originating party with penalties applied against all involved parties. Partnering with an authorized electronics recycler like The Surplus Exchange that is truly committed to proper procedures is the best and safest way to serve the public interest and protect your organization from state and EPA penalties.
Tax laws are written so that computer equipment can be depreciated over a three year period. Therefore, most companies are ineligible to donate equipment for tax write offs, since it may have already been entirely depreciated. Most schools and non-profits will no longer take computer equipment as donations, since they would simply be assuming the liability and cost for end-of-life disposal. In most cases, by the time computers are donated to the schools, they are years behind the current generation of technology.
The Surplus Exchange has been in business for well over 20 years and maintains a zero landfill policy with zero export of equipment to Third-World Countries.
Because re-use is the most environmentally-friendly form of recycling, all equipment received by Surplus is audited by our technicians to discern remaining value for refurbishment or remarketing, unless our clients request otherwise. If re-marketable value exists, the items enter our reuse system and are available for purchase at our location.
Many companies who would offer to take away your materials for free, or would even pay you for them, should be closely scrutinized. Understand that once these materials leave your control, they will most likely be sold to the highest bidder, and the subsequent computer scrap could end up in an unauthorized location that could lead back to you, with the potential of heavy fines to your organization.
Key Findings on the Management of Select Electronic Products in the US in 2007
Of products sold between 1980 and 2007, approximately 235 million units were stored in homes as of 2007.
Estimated Number of Units in Storage as of 2007
Number (million units)
Portable computers (notebooks)
Hard copy peripherals (printers and copiers)
Recycling vs Disposal
(million of units)
(million of units)
(million of units)
*Computer products include CPUs, monitors, notebooks, keyboards, mice, and peripherals.
Fluorescent lamps that provide backlighting in LCDs, in some alkaline batteries and mercury wetted switches
Rechargeable NiCd-batteries or NiMH-batteries, electron gun in CRT
– Rare Earth elements (Yttrium, Europium)
Fluorescent layer (CRT-screen)
Older photocopying-machines (photo drums)
– Zinc sulphide
Interior of CRT screens, mixed with rare earth metals
– Toner Dust
Toner cartridges for laser printers / copiers
Medical equipment, fire detectors, active sensing element in smoke detectors
What some of these substances can do to you
Beryllium Beryllium has recently been classified as a human carcinogen because exposure to it can cause lung cancer. Workers who are constantly exposed to beryllium, even in small amounts, and who become sensitised to it can develop what is known as Chronic Beryllium Disease (beryllicosis), a disease which primarily affects the lungs. Exposure to beryllium also causes a form of skin disease that is characterised by poor wound healing and wart-like bumps.
Brominated flame retardants (BFR�s) Combustion of halogenated case material and printed wiring boards at lower temperatures releases toxic emissions including dioxins which can lead to severe hormonal disorders.
Cadmium Cadmium components may have serious impacts on the kidneys. Cadmium is adsorbed through respiration but is also taken up with food. Due to the long half-life in the body, cadmium can easily be accumulated in amounts that cause symptoms of poisoning. Cadmium shows a danger of cumulative effects in the environment due to its acute and chronic toxicity. Acute exposure to cadmium fumes causes flu-like symptoms of weakness, fever, headache, chills, sweating and muscular pain. The primary health risks of long term exposure are lung cancer and kidney damage. Cadmium also is believed to cause pulmonary emphysema and bone disease (osteomalacia and osteoporosis).
CFCs (Chlorofluorocarbons) When released into the atmosphere, they accumulate in the stratosphere and have a deleterious effect on the ozone layer. This results in increased incidence of skin cancer in humans and in genetic damage in many organisms.
Chromium While some forms of chromium are non toxic, Chromium (VI) is easily absorbed in the human body and can produce various toxic effects within cells. Most chromium (VI) compounds are irritating to eyes, skin and mucous membranes. Chronic exposure to chromium (VI) compounds can cause permanent eye injury, unless properly treated. Chromium VI may also cause DNA damage.
Dioxins Dioxins are known to be highly toxic to animals and humans because they bio-accumulate in the body and can lead to malformations of the fetus, decreased reproduction and growth rates and cause impairment of the immune system among other things.
Lead Short-term exposure to high levels of lead can cause vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, coma or even death. Other symptoms are appetite loss, abdominal pain, constipation, fatigue, sleeplessness, irritability and headache. Continued excessive exposure, as in an industrial setting, can affect the kidneys. It is particularly dangerous for young children because it can damage nervous connections and cause blood and brain disorders.
Mercury Mercury is one of the most toxic yet widely used metals in the production of electrical and electronic applications. It is a toxic heavy metal that bioaccumulates causing brain and liver damage if ingested or inhaled.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) PCBs have been shown to cause cancer in animals. PCBs have also been shown to cause a number of serious non-cancer health effects in animals, including effects on the immune system, reproductive system, nervous system, endocrine system and other health effects. PCBs are persistent contaminants in the environment.
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) PVC is hazardous because it contains up to 56 percent chlorine which when burned produces large quantities of hydrogen chloride gas, which combines with water to form hydrochloric acid and is dangerous because when inhaled, leads to respiratory problems.
Selenium Exposure to high concentrations of selenium compounds cause selenosis. The major signs of selenosis are hair loss, nail brittleness, and neurological abnormalities (such as numbness and other odd sensations in the extremities).
Information obtained from The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.