What Happens to Your Computer When it’s Recycled?

Computers that are deemed obsolete or broken are demanufactured and separated into their basic components by volunteers. Free Geek then finds a local industrial recycler to process the materials – one that we are confident will handle the materials in an environmentally responsible manner.

  • Obsolete monitors, integrated computers and terminals with CRTs should be taken to Best Buy or Staples.  Volunteers do that with ones we accept.
  • Aluminum, motors, wires and cables, printers, optical drives, speakers, and other copper bearing material, circuit boards and processors, and plastic is sent to the best vendor available.  We currently get no money for plastic but follow our recycling guidelines in selecting vendors.
  • Steel is sold to a metal recycler in the neighborhood.

We currently have not been able to find recyclers for a few materials and these end up in the trash:

  • Rubber and rubber-based foam
  • Glass (only beverage glass is recyclable)
  • Treated wood (speaker cases are the common source of this)

How We Choose Our Recyclers

Free Geek consistently works to make sure its industrial recyclers process e-waste in an environmentally responsible way. At times, we have turned down recyclers who’ve offered additional profit in order to uphold this value. We require the following of our e-waste vendors:

  • Vendors are responsible for identifying and using the best possible method and place for recycling.  We strongly favor partners who are 14001 or R2 certified.
  • Vendors may not ship overseas any material considered hazardous. All processing of these materials must occur in North America.
  • Vendors may not send to the landfill material that could be recycled. Some material may be landfilled if there is no recycling process available, or if the only alternative would be burning it for fuel, which is less desirable than landfilling.
  • Vendors may not use prison labor in any part of their process.
  • Vendors are allowed to ship out of the country only material that is considered a commodity, as in clean steel, plastic, or copper.
  • Vendors must be open to an audit of their processes, or provide results from a recent audit.

Recyclers are subject to review and we will change recyclers to get the most effective use of the material.  Currently, based on our criteria, we send most material we don’t reuse to Tech Dump, a division of the Jobs Foundation, working with them to increase their volume to get better prices for the material.

Free Geek Twin Cities has multiple purposes, including taking electronics off the street, reusing items for the benefit of the people on the wrong side of the digital divide, and training many people in how electronics works.  Tech Dump’s primary purpose is providing stable jobs to economically disadvantaged adults to obtain marketable job skills as well as a pathway to self-sufficiency.  There are other nonprofits in the computer recycling area, each with their own goals.