Recycling Computers & Electronics

Harvard Facilities Maintenance Operations

Recycling & Waste Services, 12-5-11

Surplus or obsolete computers and other electronic devices ("e-waste") at Harvard University must be discarded properly. Harvard FMO Recycling advocates reuse as the best and highest disposition policy. What one department no longer wants may be useful to another Harvard department, outside organization or individual. So we have taken the measures detailed below to donate or re-sell computers whenever feasible. When no reuse or re-sale is possible for e-waste, recycling is necessary.

Regulatory Requirements
It is our policy to recycle e-waste and all other commodities generated by the Harvard campus for which local markets exist. State and federal laws, including 310 CMR 19.017 (requiring recycling of CRT monitors) and 40 CRF part 273 (requiring recycling of rechargeable batteries, contained in every computer) also require that we recycle certain e-wastes.

Management of Potentially Confidential Data
In addition to complying with environmental regulations, e-waste generators must protect confidential information. A wide range of electronic devices contain data, including but not limited to computers, printers, photocopiers, fax machines, scanners, external hard drives, memory sticks, cell phones, personal digital assistants, cameras, projectors, CD players, DVD players, MP3 players and others. Generators of e-waste are responsible for determining which devices might conceivably contain personal data files and removing them. Secure shredding by a bonded vendor is usually the best option for keeping data confidential. Harvard University’s current Preferred Vendor for shredding e-waste as well as paper documents is DataShredder (1-800-622-1808 or Just as with paper recycling, e-waste recycling requires a judgment by the generator as to whether or not the materials contain confidential data. FMO Recycling takes no special measures to protect the confidentiality of either the printed nor the digital information on the products it recovers for recycling, and assumes that the generator has taken steps necessary to shred or otherwise destroy any confidential information.

Handling Procedures
Detailed below is our system for recovering, reusing and recycling campus e-wastes. For larger devices (CPU’s, monitors, printers, projectors, and other items), we use blue wheeled laundry hampers. For hand-held devices (cell phones, PDA’s, memory sticks, cameras, DVD’s, CD’s, tapes of all kinds, as well as batteries, inkjets, pieces and parts) we use white 5-gallon buckets.

Large-scale e-wastes and e-media ("you need two hands to hold them") go into our blue 18-bushel wheeled hampers. This includes computers, copiers, TV’s, projectors, printers, fax machines, audio equipment and all peripheral accessories. FMO Recycling takes e-waste to a warehouse in Allston for further processing.

Process for Cleaning and Refurbishment of Computers
For the first part of the process, we work with two organizations which come to the warehouse every Monday and Thursday, Semi-New Computers and the LABBB Collaborative’s "School to Work" program Semi-New Computers sells refurbished computers and the LABBB Collaborative’s "School to Work" program gives vocational training to special needs students of high school age from sixty-two greater Boston public school districts. LABB’s students, under the direction of Semi-New Computers, pick through collected hampers of e-waste looking for Intel® Pentium® 4 or newer PC’s and their accessories.

The computers are tested, physically cleaned and the memory purged using "Darik’s Boot and Nuke" program (DBAN) Nearly all the computers FMO Recycling picks up either have had their hard drives removed for shredding or have already undergone the DBAN memory purge by the donor’s local IT staff. After the memory purge, Semi-New and LABBB staff refurbish the computers in the warehouse, install operating software and ready the units for resale.

The devices rejected by this process go to FMO Recycling’s weekly Surplus Distribution, where visitors (including Harvard staff as well as others from the community) are free to take away any electronics of value to them for reuse or recycling. The remainder (about half, nearly all of it CRT monitors, cords, accessories, e-media and plastic pieces) goes to the Institution Recycling Network, which sub-contracts with Allied Computer Brokers and charges FMO Recycling $.24/lb to shred and recycle e-scrap into its component commodities, roughly equal volumes of plastic, ferrous metal, non-ferrous metal and glass.

Cell Phones, PDAs and Handheld Devices (including batteries)
For cell phones, PDAs and other hand-held e-wastes, FMO Recycling uses resealable lidded 5-gallon buckets which comply with our Environmental Health & Safety department standards. "Universal Waste" and "Batteries/E-waste/E-media" signs explain use and specifications, and a Zip-lock bag full of 100 (3" x 8") bags stuck onto the side provides bags for rechargeable batteries (found in all PC’s and laptops) and CFL lamps. The sign directs donors to bag their rechargeables, CFL's & lithium batteries before putting them into the bucket. The sign also tells donors to erase all sensitive data by discharging, breaking or crushing the units.

FMO recycling drivers swap out the buckets on call and take them to a sorting room on our campus. Twice weekly, the LABBB students come in and sort out the goods into these categories and receptacles:

  • Alkaline batteries go loose and unbagged into a lidded 55-gal steel drum (cost to recycle is $1.13/lb; if we didn’t sort, then Mixed Battery charge is $3/lb, so sorters more than save their cost and allow us to recycle lots more goods).
  • Rechargeable batteries go into a "Call2Recycle" box. These batteries must all be bagged. LABBB sorters use "Hippo" bags and tie the bags into an overhand knot. Call2Recycle pays for UPS shipping of their boxes back to their dismantling and recycling facility. Though Call2Recycle would also take data devices such as cell phones and PDA’s, these go to another vendor.
  • Lithium batteries once bagged up as above go into a lidded 5-gallon bucket (IRN recycles these for $4.20/lb). We generate about a pound of these per week.
  • Cell phones, PDA’s, chargers & accessories go into a basket for packing up & free shipping to Corporate Renew FMO Recycling earns a modest sum under $10 per month for these goods. Corporate Renew’s website describes their data management practices: “The protection of our customer’s confidential information is our highest priority. CorporateRenew employs a stringent series of procedures during which every device is:
    • Data wiped both manually and with our automated software.
    • Handled in a secure environment by our trained technicians and individually inspected at the end of the process.
    • Shredded and recycled by our NAID certified partner recycler if the device does not turn on and data cannot be removed."

Ballasts, Lamps and Other e-waste

  • Ballasts go loose and unbagged into a lidded 55-gal steel drum (cost is about $.28/lb). We still have a significant fraction of PCB ballasts turning up. Since we can recycle the non-PCB’s as well, we throw them all in together.
  • Inkjets go into a basket for boxing and delivery to the Cambridge Community Center for their cartridge drive fundraiser.
  • Compact fluorescents, circlites, sodium & other mercury-containing lamps get bagged up & boxed up for shipment to the IRN. These cost around $.50 each to recycle. The IRN subcontracts with Complete Recycling Solutions in Fall River MA to recover and recycle the mercury, glass, metal and phosphor powder in the lamps.
  • CD's, DVD's, memory sticks, audio tapes, video tapes, data tapes, jewel boxes, tape cases, random cords, chargers and all other handheld e-wastes and e-media are mixed into our hampers for computers & electronics recycling through the IRN. Cost to recycle these is $.195/lb.
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