What happens to your computer when it dies? Toss it in a trash bin, and a local landfill will probably absorb it into the earth, along with lead, mercury, and toxic flame retardants.
Send that old desktop to an electronics recycler instead, and at least you know the good parts are picked clean and reused, while poisonous components are safely put to rest. Right? Not quite.
Most electronics recycling programs ship old machines overseas, often to southern China and western Africa. That already wastes energy, but what happens next is worse, as writers at Knight Ridder and Salon explained this week. The scenes described make me think of the bleak Mad Max movies, only with more trash strewn around. People scavenge PCs, monitors, and all sorts of electronics for gold, silver, and copper, but they also come into contact with toxic metals. They'll burn equipment cases to identify the type of plastic by scent, inhaling phosphor dust and who knows what else in the process. This might earn an adult or a child $2 per computer. An international treaty bans developed countries from exporting toxic products, but the United States hasn't signed on.
With a few mouse clicks, however, you'll find plenty of ways to dispose of digital detritus without harming the planet or people. Vendor take-back programs, which cost you a small fee, are usually a safe bet. We'll bring you more details leading up to Earth Day next week. For now, here are a few places to start: