Electronics Recycling

In these days of rapidly changing technology, electronic devices such as computers, PDAs, cellphones, personal music players, and even television sets are becoming obsolete at an increasingly faster rate. Because electronic devices may contain hazardous materials, recycling of such equipment helps to protect the environment. It is estimated that discarded electronics account for about 40 percent of the lead found in municipal landfills, as well as mercury, cadmium, and other toxic heavy metals in found landfills and municipal incinerators. In addition, disposal of other metal components, like the copper, gold, silver and palladium in cell phones and other electronics, can lead to increased mining for new metals, which can adversely impact the environment. 

Image of various computer equipment being disposed of.

At Columbia, EH&S, along with Facilities Management, collects computers and monitors throughout the University through Hazardous Waste Management Program. Since its inception, EH&S's computer recycling program has grown both in the number of computers collected and in pounds of materials recycled. In addition, EH&S works with Norman Kleiman, an Associate Research Scientist in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health, and Director of Eye Radiation and Environmental Research Laboratory, to help repurpose computers for reuse. More information about this program can be found at http://www.environment.columbia.edu

To date, EH&S has collected close to 990,000 pounds (approximately 450 tons) of electronics for recycling.  Below is sample data from our most recent recycling efforts

Graph showing electronic recylcing amounts at the various Columbia campus locations.

How to recycle Used Electronics at Columbia University

There are many pathways to properly recycling your computer equipment at Columbia University.  At Morningside, call the Service Center at 212-854-2222 to arrange for pickup through Facilities and at the Medical Center, call Facilities Operations at 212-305-HELP (4357) extension 3.  At the Nevis Campus, Facilities, at 914-591-8883, will take your unwanted computer equipment and the Safety and Security Department at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory can be contacted at 845-365-8860 for the same service.  In addition, the Morningside and Nevis campuses host several recycling events throughout the year, such as Clean and Go Green for faculty and staff and Give and Go green for students during the spring move out.  Finally, Columbia University has partnered with the New York City Department of Sanitation for an Electronics and Wearable Clothing Recycling Event.  DSNY also provides information on manufacturer take backs in the New York City area at http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycwasteless/html/stuff/takeback.shtml.  If you have any further questions regarding electronics recycling, please contact EH&S at hazmat@columbia.edu
It is important to be aware that before a computer is designated for recycling or repurposing, it is the responsibility of the end user to ensure that sensitive data are cleansed from the hard drive. Deleting files or simply reformatting the hard drive will not stop someone intent on recovering private, personal or confidential data from your computer.  CUIT’s  “Data Sanitization/Disposal of Electronic Equipment Policy” outlines the procedure for cleansing electronic equipment of sensitive data.  CUIT also provides the Columbia community with DBAN http://www.columbia.edu/acis/security/download/, an easy to use program that erases all data from a hard drive. 

Last but not least… 

Please help us protect the environment by properly handling electronics at the end of their useful life.  Computers, monitors, laptops and similar items must not be placed with regular trash.  Care must be taken when handling old computer monitors as to not shatter the glass screen.  Every waste item generated at Columbia University has an appropriate recycling or disposal program, so please take the extra effort to locate the disposal outlet for your wastes.  Finally, try to consult with the original manufacturer before disposing of any electronic device, as many of the larger personal computer and electronics manufacturers, such as Apple, Dell, Nokia, and Motorola accept used products for recycling.  Please check individual manufacturer websites for more information.
Additional Electronic Recycling Information and Resources:
For more information on reuse, recycling, or environmental issues, please visit: