Private firms offer inexpensive options for recycling electronics

Tom Abate, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, December 24, 2007

making a purchase," said Adam, adding that some firms have policies of accepting the old gear without charge, and others can be persuaded to accept the discard in return for the sale.

That may be great advice for shoppers who wait for the post-Christmas sales, but if your family's new TV, computer, printer or cell phone is already wrapped, and you plan on getting rid of the old gear, Kao and Adam offered some rubrics to keep in mind.

-- Check the e-recyclers in your area and ask them how they dispose of their electronics. Can they offer some assurance that the stuff won't end up in a dump? "Ask for a certificate of recycling," Adam said.

-- Be careful when recycling a personal computer with a hard drive containing sensitive information. Erasing the drive isn't enough, experts say. Unscrupulous recyclers could reconstruct the data and violate your privacy.

Adam said many e-recyclers remove and destroy disk drives, running them through grinding machines that shred them into tiny pieces.

Kao said consumers should ask for a certificate attesting their disk drive was destroyed. While they may not be able to watch it go through the shredder, the promise offers a greater assurance that the firm is playing by the rules.

If you have space to store surplus electronic gear, it may be worth waiting for one of the free electronics drop-offs that are scheduled from time to time by community organizations, city authorities or waste disposal firms.

At such times, when there are long lines of cars waiting to take advantage of the free service, don't expect all these neat little certificates. And it may be that if you like to err on the side of caution, you might remove the hard drive from your PC and simply hold onto it.

But if you have no room or patience for yesterday's electronics and want to keep them out of landfills, you'll have to find an e-recycler that will accept and properly dispose of your gear at minimal cost and inconvenience.

Prices, hours and services will vary, so call around.

Kao offered this indication of what to expect from Green Citizen. Some items like cell phones and laptops are likely to be free. In many instances, so are TV monitors and flat screen displays with viewing surfaces under 28 inches.

Other items, such as desktop computers, laser and inkjet printers, copiers, stereos and miscellaneous gizmos, may have little or no residual value and therefore probably will have a drop-off cost of something like 50 cents a pound, Kao said.