Fifteen years ago hardly anyone thought about how to recycle computers or other electronics. Those who did may not have even known about the importance of keeping toxic heavy metals out of our landfills, or the fact that 98 percent of the materials in computers can be recovered and reused for a sustainable economy. 

Ten years ago computer and electronic wastes in general were starting to enter the public consciousness. Dell Computer sponsored the first urban recycling drives in a dozen major cities, including one in Atlanta that collected several semi trailer loads of electronics. 

Five years ago it was becoming to get a lot easier to recycle your electronics. Numerous cities were sponsoring annual or even monthly recycling events, and a handful of recycling centers were accepting electronics. Awareness was also growing of the fact that most of the equipment picked up for 'recycling' was actually being exported to third world countries, causing harm to local people and their environment. In 2008 this was documented by 60 Minutes in this shocking expose.

Today, you can take advantage of numerous electronics recycling events at churches, schools, neighborhood associations etc., which offer competing opportunities to dump your toxic trash at no apparent cost. Paradoxically, as it has become easier to recycle old computers, people have become more cautious. The export of e-waste to the developing world is continuing. Worse still, people have become acutely aware of their 'digital identity' stored on hard drives and even smart phones, and are reluctant to drop them in a bin with no control over their information.

What is a consumer or business to do?

Ask your recycling vendor questions. Who is the downstream processor? Are they R2 Certified? (Zentech's processors are) These certification standards are still emerging and have room for improvement, but they are the standard for government agencies, Fortune 500 companies, and retail outlets such as Best Buy and Staples who have set up responsible collection systems. 

-What will happen to your data? Can your recycler certify that the hard drive will be data-wiped or physically shredded? Better yet, does your local recycler offer this service right before your eyes? These options are standard for large companies, but they are also available to residents and small to mid sized business. At Zentech, we make sure that your information does not travel any further than our recycling center. 

For more information please visit or call us at 404-551-5174.

Julian Powell - Chemical engineer and environmental entrepreneur specializing in waste and energy issues.