Feature

E-waste busters!

E-waste

Many computers become obsolete so quickly because they're too slow to run the latest software - but old computers can be given a new lease on life.

Credit: iStockphoto

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Reuse

Even computers that have given up the ghost for good can still breathe new life into other machines, as they can be used as a source of spare parts for other computers.

Reverse Garbage, for example, is a not-for-profit collective in Sydney that uses old computer parts to repair and refurbish other computers. Unlike many recycling organisations, Reverse Garbage does not charge fees to take old computers off your hands. Machines are dismantled on site, functioning parts are used and the rest are offered to local artists who turn the old parts into everything from lamps to jewellery.

Recycle

The last resort for old computers is recycling whatever can't be refurbished or reused. As recycling is a labour-intensive process, most recyclers will charge a fee to take away your e-waste.

Ask the original manufacturer of the computer if they have a take-back program. Many (such as Dell and Toshiba) do, but some will charge a fee to pick up the equipment while others will pay you small amounts (around $50) for late-model computers.

Those machines are typically recycled by certified companies that dismantle the equipment, then recycle each of the components separately. Plastics are shredded and recycled into fence posts within Australia. Wires are chopped up and the copper extracted for reuse. Most other components, such as motherboards, batteries and lead-laced glass from old CRT monitors, are shipped overseas for recycling.

Buying a new computer?

• If you really need to buy a new computer, opt for a laptop instead of a desktop - they use up to 85 per cent less energy than standard desktop computers.

• Choose computers with bodies made from aluminium and glass, as these materials are easier to recycle and reuse than the typical plastic casing. Also look out for eco-options, like bamboo.

• Consider the environmental credentials of the manufacturers before you make your purchase. Greenpeace conducts an annual survey of computer and electronics manufacturers and gives them an overall score.

Where do I recycle?

Go to www.recyclingnearyou.com.au and search for computer recyclers in your local council area. Victorians can use the free ByteBack program through Sustainability Victoria. Byteback accepts all computers, keyboards, mice, printers, scanners, computer power supplies, printed circuit boards, motherboards, network and memory cards, disk and CD drives, at no charge. However, there is a limit of 10 items per person.

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