Updated: Mar 12, 2020
Federal Regulations for Computer Disposal
According to U.N. researchers, only 20% of electronics are being recycled. The improper disposal of electronics is the world’s fastest growing waste issue (The Telegraph). The U.S. produces more e-waste annually than any other country and throws away more than 9.4 million tons per year of electronics (Earth 911).
To promote the safe disposal of hazardous waste and protection of consumer information, the U.S. actively enforces federal laws pertaining to computer and electronic recycling. Key federal laws addressing electronic waste disposal include:
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) prohibits the open dumping of waste and encourages the hazardous waste disposal of computers and electronics. For more information on how to comply with RCRA, visit the EPA’s website at https://www.epa.gov/rcra. The Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) delegates the responsibility of proper disposal to the generator of the waste material. This liability remains with the organization which generated the waste material regardless of whether the electronic equipment changes ownership throughout its life. For more information on CERCLA, visit the EPA’s website at https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-comprehensive-environmental-response-compensation-and-liability-act.
The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) works to reduce identity and propriety theft and protect companies’ financial systems and IT infrastructure. Under SOX, electronic data must be erased and rendered irretrievable before an IT asset can be disposed. For more information on SOX, visit the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commissions’ website at https://www.sec.gov/spotlight/sarbanes-oxley.htm. The Gramm Leach Biley Act (GLB) is directed towards financial institutions which are defined by the Federal Trade Commission as any organization that handles an individual’s money. GLB requires that proactive steps be taken by financial institutions to protect sensitive customer information. For more information on GLB, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website at https://www.ftc.gov/tips-advice/business-center/privacy-and-security/gramm-leach-bliley-act In July 2011, the N.C. General Assembly established disposal bans on electronic equipment. N.C. General Statute 130A-309.10(f) states that “No person shall knowingly dispose of the following solid wastes in landfills: (14) Discarded computer equipment.” N.C. General Statutes 130A-309.130 through 130A-309.141 regarding the management of discarded computer equipment and televisions establishes a shared responsibility between consumers, manufacturers, and state government for an electronics recycling program (North Carolina Environmental Quality). The goal of this program “... is to foster a statewide recycling infrastructure for these materials. In combination with this program, the law bans televisions, computers, monitors, printers, scanners and computer peripherals such as keyboards and mice from disposal in landfills” North Carolina Environmental Quality).
Most counties in N.C. offer electronic collection services at public drop-off locations and many computer manufacturers also have programs in place to promote the recycling of used computers. Retailers such as Dell offer in-store, mail-in, and drop-off sites for electronics. For more information on options offered by computer retailers and where you can recycle locally, visit the EPA’s website at https://www.epa.gov/recycle/electronics-donation-and-recycling.
Recycling computers and other used electronics can help to conserve resources and materials such as metals, plastics, and glass. Most electronic and computer equipment contain hazardous materials such as lead, mercury, beryllium, cadmium, and lithium that need to be disposed of in a safe manner.
According to the EPA, “A RCRA characteristic hazardous waste is a solid waste that exhibits at least one of four characteristics defined in 40 CFR Part 261 C- ignitability (D001), corrosivity (D002), reactivity (D003), and toxicity (D004-D043)” (Hazardous Waste Characteristics).
The improper disposal of electronics can result in the release of toxic chemicals and metals into the environment and contribute to air and water pollution.
Recycling electronics can also help to conserve energy. For every million laptops that are recycled, the energy saved is equivalent to the electricity used in one year by approximately 3,500 homes in the U.S. (Electronics Donation and Recycling).
Before donating or recycling electronics, steps must be taken to protect personal information that may still be stored on the device. When recycling a used computer, personal data including passwords, account numbers, tax returns, and addresses could still be on the computer’s hard drive. Protect this personal data and information by wiping or physically destroying the hard drive before recycling the computer.
Per Department of Defense guidelines, hard drives must be removed from computers and destroyed before the computer is recycled.
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