e-waste – how to handle it

This post is applicable to EVERYONE – not just the original poster. This is my reply to their question on SpiceWorks. When I started, I wasn’t planning to write a full on instructional manual, but I have, more or less. I have years of experience with e-waste reclamation, in south Florida. One thing I don’t mention below – you’ll want to watch your local scrap prices for steel/irony, copper and aluminum. Don’t jump the gun and take a small amount of scrap in when the prices reach a high, they fluctuate, and will be higher again. Now, onto my actual reply:

No one buys e-waste. Recyclers sell their services to businesses, to take the gear. They then strip it all down, and recycle the various components. You’re paying for that time, and the cost to recycle the non-metal portions. Any money made on the back-end with metals scrap is their actual profit.

Your old but still usable gear… don’t pay someone to haul it off. Reset bioses, firmware, DoD wipe drives… and give the stuff to some kid who can use it to learn, schools and libraries, sell on ebay, or keep as spare parts. This is how to do that, within a business, environmental, social and legal sense (at least in most places, I think), and maybe even for a small profit of your own ("your own" being speculative, your business may want the funds, or allow for the funds to be added to a departmental slush fund, after work party, etc)

First and foremost – TRACK EVERYTHING ON PAPER! Any gear which leaves the ownership of the business NEEDS to be written down, and preferably authorized by management above you. Especially if you are the recipient of said equipment. The recipient also needs to print their name and sign. This is totally a CYA thing, and though may not be required by law or company policy – make it your own policy and NEVER DO WITHOUT! I’ve seen this bite people in the ass years later.

Your best bet would be to find an entrepreneurial high school student, and guide them into building an e-recycling business. No one in the US will buy your old gear, much less pay shipping for it. Not that level of waste, anyways. RAM, CPUs, motherboards and expansion cards have higher value due to the potential gold content – these you might be able to sell to someone willing to take the time to reclaim the gold and copper. Old drives, heatsinks, cases, PC power supplies – these all have the highest value for metal scrappers, and if there’s a metals recycling center near you – it would be worth your time to collect the stuff until you have enough to spend a saturday breaking it all down to "clean" metals – removal of any plastic, boards, and to separate the metal types. This is where that high school student would come in. There’s at least three different metals in most hard drives (aluminum, steel/irony and rare metals from the platters and possibly magnets). Heat sinks are almost always aluminum and/or copper these days, and are pure profit for scrappers. The PCBs, if they do not have re-use value (You’d be surprised what people buy in the way of old working tech! Check ebay!) can be gathered up, with the steel and plastic stripped off and sold in lots to gold reclaimation businesses. This is a mightily dirty, toxic and dangerous work, so you’ll often be lucky to a dollar or two per motherboard, and less for PCI/PCIe cards. This isn’t the work for most people, and the start-up costs are considerable if done properly to protect the environment – lots of waste heavy metals and acids that need to be properly handled.

So, ultimately, this is what I would do:
For any whole/complete or mostly complete equipment which still works (or can with the addition of some parts): Sell on ebay, locally, or give to a student aspiring to get into IT, or for old desktops, donate to a local school. This includes printers, monitors, etc as well.
For old /working/ components (RAM, CPU, motherboards): sell on ebay. Being they’re small components, the shipping isn’t horrible, especially if you give a local-pickup option, or charge more for off-island shipping.
For non-functional components: Start a collection box, strip off the larger pieces of plastic, steel and aluminum, and put the "cleaned" components in another box. Take the steel and aluminum to your local recycling center to get paid for your time.
Computer cases, heat sinks, HDDs, PSUs, etc: strip off any plastic, and separate the steel, copper and aluminum. Use cleaned PC cases as collection bins for steel items (such as brackets from expansion cards) – once a case is full, take the whole thing in as steel/irony scrap. The same can be done for copper and aluminum too, one metal per case.
Non-functional "cleaned" PCBs and HDDs: Collect the HDD platters separately from the rest (above) and sell in lots by number or weight to metal reclamation business – possibly the same people who will buy the PCBs for gold and copper reclamation.
For non-functional systems & gear: Deconstruct these to their base materials and components and start at the top of this list again.

Your biggest cost then will be the plastics recycling, which you might be able to pay someone locally to pickup for recycling. SOME plastics can be sent through a shredder and melted down into 3D printer prototyping filament spools, but not something you’re liking to do yourself. Of course, the rest of the stuff, you’ll need storage space for, but that can be as little space as a couple office chairs, especially if you dedicate a shelving unit. Anything you sell on ebay will cost posting fees, and anything you sell in working order will need to be shipped in anti-static bags and bubble wrap. To be cheap, you can re-use the bubble wrap and AS bags from equipment you’ve ordered. Boxes too.

Anything above where I said "you" can also mean anyone else. But, don’t expect them to purchase the gear from you to do that work. If your company would allow it, you can possibly "hire" a high school kid to be your e-waste recycling "contractor" – Someone who would be willing to pick up your gear for free and do all the work. If you build up a nice pile, enough for a week’s worth of work, that would be enough to get them started as a business. Advocate for them to other businesses in your domain, to get them going. But, you’ll need someone who you can trust to actually do the work properly, as your concerns are environmental and not profit based. Doing this would ensure the components stay out of the landfills (and the environment) – AND help to start up a new business. Win-Win!

Oh, and if you want to get really into it, fans have copper coils which can be removed, collected and sold as scrap. It’ll take a couple hundred to have enough copper to really be worth anything, but popping the motor out of the shroud and removing the blades is done easily enough, resulting in much less space needed for storing until enough is collected to tear down.

CRT and LCD monitors, these can be de-constructed as well, but they require extra special care and handling. The light bulbs are similar to the tube lights in your ceilings, and LCD panels can’t easily be recycled, so they would have to be shipped off. Thankfully, most "dead" LCD monitors only require new PCBs to become functional again – so repairing them is often more cost saving then replacing, and for the ones which aren’t to be re-used, the internal components and LCD panels can be sold on ebay – ESPECIALLY if the monitor was working when decommissioned, so you can say that it is in working order, the same for the PCBs (power, control, I/O boards) On common and more expensive monitors, and ones which use standard VESA mounts, the stands can be sold separately. I would keep any working external power supply bricks though, especially if your company has the same monitors on a lot of desks.

Which brings me to my last point: Spare parts. Keep them, at least for a while. If it’s something that is replaced with another – such as someone in the company getting a new desktop, but their old one is still in working condition and it’s newer than a Pentium II, keep it. If you hire a new employee, you’ll have a PC on hand, at least to get them started with until a new PC can be purchased or built. Once a quarter or so, take the oldest half to a school, library, etc – make a drive of it and go out to areas where they’ll really be appreciated.

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