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Giving second lives to used tech is a big part of going green

Buying a refurbished computer can save you some green. It might make your school district greener, too.

More than 80 to 85 percent of obsolete electronic products end up in landfills, and computer equipment in particular can leach a toxic brew of heavy metals into the soil or groundwater, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. one solution to the problem: giving new life to computers so they don’t end up being thrown out prematurely.

“Reuse is the highest value (end-of-life) option for recovered electronic products,” says Reggie Caudill, a New Jersey Institute of Technology professor and expert on the management of electronic waste.

While there is a growing awareness about e-waste in the united states, efficient collection and recycling centers simply do not exist in many areas. That means computers and other electronics -- many containing lead, mercury, chromium and other harmful chemicals -- will continue to be tossed away.

“Any or all of these materials may leach from landfills and end up in the drinking water or become airborne particles if incinerated,” Caudill says. “Also, with combustion of plastics there is the possibility of dioxins being created and released.”

The problem isn’t just limited to landfills. Ocean dumping and exports to underdeveloped countries, such as china or parts of africa, are also significant issues.

When it comes to protecting the environment, the mantra is “recycle, reuse, reduce.” But demand for computers isn’t going down, and recycling of electronic products is still in an early phase. for now, the reuse option—through items such as refurbished computers — remains a sensible one.