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Reuse over recycling

Recycling Plastics From Computers


illumynt is not in the recycling business.

Beyond complete data erasure (destruction), we refurbish and resell computers and their constituent components, and, as a last resort, send unusable devices to our R2 certified downstream recyclers.

But what happens to the plastic from electronics is of serious concern.  For example, according to Climate of our Future, “The plastic in a laptop typically accounts for 30-40 percent of its components,” and with e-waste on the rise, the rise in plastic waste constitutes a number too large to be ignored. According to the World Economic Forum, “In 2019, only 17.4% of the 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste was properly collected and recycled.”

According to international German broadcaster, Deutsche Welle (DW), “the plastic[s] industry is the second largest and fastest-growing source of industrial greenhouse gas emissions, and 99% of what goes into plastic is derived from fossil fuels.” The very production of plastic is a driver of climate change, but our reliance on them is making it difficult to stem the tide.

One problem is, according to Science Daily, “Plastics found in electronic waste (e-waste) are rarely recycled due to their complex composition and hazardous additives.” In a world where reuse trumps recycling it’s exciting to read that Nanyang Technological University scientists in Singapore (NTU Singapore) are repurposing them as an alternative to the plastics used in laboratory cell culture containers, such as petri dishes. The chemistry journal, ACS Publications reports that “Electronic waste (e-waste) plastics from end-of-life printers, predominantly polycarbonate, were upcycled and transformed into sustainable 3D printing filaments.”

Tech giants Lenovo, Dell and HP are all committed to incorporating recycled plastics into their products. Lenovo boasts that since 2005 its cumulative total use of recycled plastics in products has reached over 123 million kilograms.

Beyond reclaiming plastic, the quest is on to incorporate more sustainable sources. For example, Dell’s laptop lid is made from 71% recyclable and renewable materials including tree-based bioplastic upcycled from the paper making industry (21%), reclaimed carbon fiber (20%) and post-consumer recycled plastic (30%).

Tech giants are aware that all the materials needed to keep a constant flow of new and innovative products coming will not always be in ready supply. Creating products from more sustainable materials is not just an environmental “nice to have” but an actual business necessity as the demand for product continues to grow, while finite supplies of materials remain, well, finite.

To use, the complexities of recycling plastic from electronics further points to the need for reuse, wherever possible. We’re committed to finding a new life for assets we process wherever possible, and that’s more than 95% of the time.

Be sure to read my continuing blog series as I discuss all things related to sustainable electronics.


Carol Baroudi has been focused on sustainable electronics for more than 15 years and is recognized for her prominent work as lead author for Green IT for Dummies. Carol is a contributing guest blogger for illumynt and consulting to support new sustainability initiatives.

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