Index-Green Design Institute - Carnegie Mellon University

Computer Recycling: Resources and Research

Green Design Computer Recycling Page

A large amount of waste from consumers, businesses, and government agencies comes from old electronic equipment (especially computers) and activities associated with using them. Some studies have been done in the last decade to help estimate the amount of such products being landfilled, recycled, etc. Reducing the impacts from obsolete electronics requires that information be available to people who need it pertaining to old electronic equipment, since specific data on quantities of machines reused or recycled are generally unavailable.

We have made an environmental issues from electronic products resource list available for people looking for a centralized source of web-based information on the topic.

Below you will find more information on our research into the issue of end-of-life electronics.


In June 1997, we completed a study on "Disposition and End-of-Life Options for Personal Computers". This study was done by H. Scott Matthews, Chris T. Hendrickson, and Francis C. McMichael of the Green Design Initiative and Deanna J. Hart of Concurrent Technologies Corporation. If you need assistance, you can e-mail the authors.

This paper was mentioned in an article in the New York Times on Thursday March 12, 1998. You can read an online version of this article.

Abstract

A widely cited 1991 study predicted that nearly 150 million personal computers (PCs) would be sent to landfills by 2005. Taking into consideration newer end-of-life disposition options now available, the general premise of the original study is reconsidered.

Many fewer computers are being sent to landfills, as many more are being recycled as markets for used computers and electronic equipment develop. Many are still being stored, despite the unprofitable nature of storage. The updated model suggests that nearly 150 million computers will be recycled in 2005� the same number initially predicted to be landfilled. Instead, we predict that only 55 million will be landfilled. In addition, the equivalent of 15 million PCs will be landfilled from the unused portions of the 150 million recycled computers. In essence, the computers sentenced to death in landfills in 1991 have been given a second life in newly established recycled electronic goods markets.

Note that we have also made an educational version of this research available as a case study. This case and an associated teacher's guide can be accessed via the Education page.