How does Penn dispose of electronic waste?

Dear Benny,
What does Penn do with its e-waste? Does it have an e-recycling program?
—Green Machines

Dear Greenie,
You are right to ask about a recycling program for electronic waste (that’s e-waste for short). Old computers can’t just be tossed in the trash; this equipment may contain heavy metals and other materials hazardous to humans and the environment, including lead, cadmium and mercury.

Fortunately, Penn does have ways for departments to recycle their e-waste. For the answer, we turned to Amy Phillips, senior IT project leader in Information Systems & Computing Technology Support Services. She says that while every school and center at Penn has its own process, e-waste disposal of computers and printers is usually handled by a department’s IT staff.

In preparation for recycling, IT staff will often remove the hard drive from the system and then contact University Archives for its disposal. The Archives uses a hard drive shredding service, which pulverizes the drive and literally turns it into dust, which is then recycled.

The rest of the electronic item—including the central processing unit, monitor, printer and cables—are scheduled for pick-up by one of Penn’s approved local recycling vendors. At their sites, the vendors break down the e-waste to its purest elements before having it recycled.

Additionally, offices can recycle computers by donating equipment to communities in need. Donations may be arranged through CommuniTech, a student organization that supplies nearby neighborhoods with computer and technology information. Recycling programs are also available through Dell, Apple and Hewlett-Packard.

For more information, go to the Environmental Health and Radiation Safety website: or the Green IT site:

Originally published on April 21, 2011