Properly dispose of used printers
Give your old printer a second life by donating it to a worthy cause or sending it for recycling where it’s parts can be made into something new. You’ll keep toxins out of the soil and water and help stimulate the recycling industry, too!
How to properly dispose of your used printer
Purchasing a new, energy-efficient, paper-saving printer is a great way to green up your office, but don’t just chuck your old machine. Donate or recycle it with these eco-friendly disposal options:
- Donation sites: Schools, nonprofits, and low-income communities can make use of your used unit if it’s in working condition. Here are a couple of sites that’ll help you find a place to donate your old machine:
- Recycles.org allows businesses, schools, and other organizations to donate used electronics for reuse and recycling.
- TechSoup’s site lists organizations accepting donations across the country, searchable by zip code.
- Silicon Valley StRUT Center accepts technology donations in the Silicon Valley area.
- Cristina Foundation takes all sorts of electronics, including printers, copiers, and scanners.
- Manufacturer take-back programs: Your printer manufacturer may have a take-back program in place. Check out the Plug-In to eCycling Partners or myGreenElectronics for a list of companies with existing collection and recycling programs, then contact your manufacturer to ask them if they’ll accept your machine for reuse or recycling.
- E-waste recycling sites: The following organizations help you find a recycler who’ll accept your old printer. But before you foist your out-dated machine on them, make sure they’re reputable. They should have signed the Electronic Recycler's Pledge of True Stewardship, the most rigorous criteria for sustainable and socially just electronics recycling.
- Basel Action Network lists companies practicing sustainable e-recycling.
- E-cycling Central allows you to choose your state to find recyclers in your area.
- Earth 911’s searchable database allows you to find recyclers around the world.
- myGreenElectronics lets you search by zip code and product type (choose printers from this menu).
- EPR2 Project lists recyclers by state.
Donating or recycling your old printer helps you go green because…
- It reduces the amount of toxic substances that end up in landfills and enables the reuse of many resources, including heavy metals, thereby limiting the need to use virgin raw materials.
- It extends the useful life of a printer and offers opportunity to organizations and individuals that can make use of secondhand equipment.
Electronic waste is the fastest growing portion of the US waste stream, growing at rates around 8 percent per year. Fewer than 10 percent of these outdated electronics are refurbished or recycled—the rest end up in landfills or incinerators where they can then enter the water or air supply and cause harm to human and ecosystem health. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance estimates that about 75 percent of obsolete electronics exist in storage until the best options for recycling or reuse are identified. This creates concern around managing this volume when the equipment finally emerges from storerooms.
Chemicals posing potential threats to human and environmental health include arsenic, cadmium, mercury, lead, selenium, and polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) or polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) found in components such as photoreceptors and photoconductors, plastic parts, and circuitry. The toxic qualities of lead have been well documented and it is already banned from many uses. The toxicity of mercury is also well known, and it is potent in acute quantities. Just 1/70 of a teaspoon of mercury can pollute and contaminate a 20-acre lake, rendering its fish unsuitable for consumption.
PBDE, a type of brominated flame retardant (BFR), has been found in homes and offices alike. It has been found in high levels in the breast milk of women in Sweden and the US, with women in North America having the highest concentrations in the world. Deca-BDE, a bioaccumulative substance and the most commonly used on electronics, builds up in human bodies in the same fashion as heavy metals, such as mercury.
Though some forms of PBDEs were taken off the North American market as of 2004, deca-BDE remains widely used, mostly on the outer casings of computers. Due to their health risks, many governments worldwide have classified BFRs as hazardous chemicals and have already begun to phase them out of use. The European Union banned the use of all PBDEs, including deca-BDE, in electronics. Many companies, such as Apple, Toshiba, and NEC, have created products without these substances.
Related health issues
The Basel Convention of 1994 stipulates that hazardous e-waste cannot be shipped from rich countries to poor nations for disposal and/or recycling. The US is the only major country still refusing to sign. As a result, toxic electronics, including printers, are being shipped to countries that often have lax environmental and health regulations. Toner contains carbon black, a known carcinogen, and is often handled by children and adults alike in overseas recycling facilities.
Donating used equipment to a nonprofit or school will likely qualify you for a deduction once tax season rolls around. Keep a record of what you donated and to whom. Most nonprofit refurbishers will be able to provide a donation receipt for tax purposes if you request it. Businesses are able to deduct the un-depreciated value of the donated item, while individual donors are able to deduct the current market value of the donated equipment. Computers for Schools provides a useful tool, the Used Computer Evaluator (you’ll need to pay a small fee to resgister), to determine the market value of a used computer.
- arsenic: A naturally occurring element used in wood preservatives (inorganic) and pesticides and animal feed (organic). Both inorganic and organic arsenic are harmful to humans and can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased red and white blood cell production, heart abnormalities, blood vessel damage, increased rates of cancer, and more.
- brominated flame retardants (BFRs): Used on printed circuit boards and components like plastic covers and cables. Once released into the environment through leaching and incineration, BFRs travel through the food chain and can increase cancer risk.
- cadmium: Found in chip resistors, infrared detectors, and semiconductors. Toxic and bio-accumulative, this chemical can affect your kidneys.
- lead: Used in the soldering of circuit boards, lead can cause damage to your nervous system, your kidneys, and your blood system. It is estimated that consumer electronics are responsible for 40 percent of the lead in landfills. From there, it can seep into our drinking water and then accumulate in the environment, affecting plants, animals, and humans.
- mercury: Found in batteries and circuit boards, mercury can seep into waterways. This chemical travels through the food chain and can cause brain damage.
- polybrominated biphenyls (PBB): A flame retardant added to plastics, foams, etc. Exposure to PBBs can result in nausea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, joint pain, fatigue, skin irritations, nervous and immune system problems, and liver, kidney, and thyroid damage.
- polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE): A fire-retardant linked to brain and reproductive system disorders.
- selenium: Used in electronics, as a pigment in plastics, paints, enamels, and rubber, as well as in dietary supplements and some cosmetic products. This substance can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, nail brittleness, and neurological difficiences.
- EPA report on electronic waste recycling and donation
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Where Can I Donate or Recycle My Old Computer?
- Computers with Causes
- Greenpeace - Eliminate toxic chemicals
- MSNBC - Recycling electronics not always a solution: Lots of TVs, computers still exported to places with lax environmental rules
- Computer Take Back Campaign - The Problem
- Computer Take Back Campaign - Brominated Flame Retardants in Dust on Computers: The Case for Safer Chemicals and Better Computer Design
- US Environmental Protection Agency - EPA Waste Wise Update: Electronics Reuse and Recycling
- Department of General Services, California - Office Machines - Copiers: Indoor Air Quality
- The Green Guide - Product Report: Computers
- Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition - Toxic Outsourcing: Loopholes In the Law
- Consumer Reports Greener Choices - Products for a Better Planet: Arsenic - (choose Arsenic from the “Search by” drop-down box)
- Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry - ToxFAQs: Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBBs)
- WorldWatch Institute - Furniture: Comfort Without Consequence
- Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry - ToxFAQs: Selenium