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Q&A on recycling computers

Some questions and answers about recycling computers:

Q. What's the first thing to do with a computer that's no longer needed?

A. Consider whether you want to be sure that others can't retrieve your data. Using the delete key isn't sufficient. Software is available to "zero out" data. Computer stores sell disk utilities that can perform a "low-level format" to clean the hard drive.

Q. Why should I be concerned about what happens to my old computer once I erase my personal information?

A. Computers and other electronics contain numerous hazardous materials or metals in the circuitry, monitors and plastic casings.

Monitors: Between 4 and 8 pounds of lead, which can be toxic if ingested. When buried in a landfill, it can leach into groundwater.

Electronics systems and circuit boards: Small amounts of tin, copper, gold, palladium and antimony. Trace amounts of beryllium, mercury and cadmium, all heavy metals and harmful—sometimes carcinogenic—if ingested.

Plastic housings: Presence of flame retardants, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, a toxic substance that builds up over time in human bodies.

Q. What is the federal government doing about exports of e-waste?

A. Nothing. The United States is the only major nation that hasn't ratified the 1994 Basel Convention, which bans exports of hazardous electronic waste.

Moreover, the Environmental Protection Agency has no certification process for electronic-waste recyclers. Any company can claim it "recycles" e-waste, when all it does is export it.

Q. Where can I get information about responsible e-waste recycling in my area?

A. Many states have recyclers who've signed pledges not to export and dump old computers. Here are Web sites to show where they're available:

Computer Take Back Campaign:

Basel Action Network:

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