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Disposing of Your Old Computer

Q: I am getting a new computer for the new school year. Is it OK to throw away my old computer and other computer accessories? A: Absolutely not. Computers, computer accessories, and other electronics have loads of heavy metals, gases and other toxic substances including arsenic, barium and mercury that should be reclaimed by an authorized computer recycler and kept out of landfills. Older computer monitors and televisions are particularly harmful to our environment because of the lead they contain.  Milwaukee residents can drop off old computers and peripherals at no cost to one of the City’s two self-help recycling centers (south side: 3879 W. Lincoln Ave.; north side: 6600 N. Industrial Rd.). Summer and fall hours through November 25 are Monday – Saturday 7 a.m – 7 p.m. and Sunday 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. Worried about someone getting a hold of your personal information from your old computer? Most computer recyclers – including Midwest Computers, the company contracted by the City to handle their residential drop offs – will erase your information. But double check with any company you choose to use. Non-Milwaukee residents can choose from many good, local computer recycling businesses. A comprehensive list of computer recyclers can be found at the local non-profit, WasteCap Wisconsin’s website: http://www.wastecapwi.org/computerrecyclers.htm. The average fee is $5 per component. Here’s another idea: donate your old computer to a local school or non-profit organization. The only potential problem is the new user having access to your old files, so purchase hard drive deletion software and wipe out everything on the hard drive. A local organization to try is the YMCA-CDC accepts computers with minimum components of Pentium III, 10 GB Hard Drive, 256 MB Memory, 500 MHz Processor speed. No monitors, please. Call Mike Soika at 414-274-0749 or e-mail Another option is the Digital Campfires Foundation in Brown Deer just north of Milwaukee. Digital Campfires refurbishes computers, uses them to train low-income people in basic computer skills, and gives the trained individuals a computer of their own to take home. The same minimum components as above apply and no monitors or printers are currently accepted. Campfires partners with SHARE Wisconsin, a food bank with 200 sites around Wisconsin, as well as select other nonprofits to provide computers and computer skills training to the community serviced by local agencies. Call Digital Campfires at 414-467-2299 for more information or to find a location near you. Send your ecological inquiries to our resident ecologist at