Disposing Of An Old Laptop – What To Recycle, What To Keep

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how to dispose of laptopLaptops are a treasure trove of parts that can live more than one life. Whether they continue a life as spare part or become the subject of a DIY tech project, you can get a lot of extra value out of your old hardware. And at the very least you can give a broken laptop to a recycling facility that will recover valuable materials like gold, copper, aluminum, and many more. Curious to see which parts you can easily extract yourself and re-use in one way or the other?

Laptops consist of a standard set of parts, which every manufacturer composes in a unique way. Hence it is almost impossible to give general advice on how to remove specific parts. And it’s often pointless to stock up on old parts for future use, as they won’t fit into newer laptop models. The video below demonstrates the partial dis-assembly of a HP Compaq nw8440 and gives you an idea of the valuables hidden inside a laptop and how to access them.

Since you most likely have a different laptop, please have a look into its manual, online at the manufacturer’s website, or search Google for instructions.

Battery Pack

Most laptop batteries are unique to one model and can be expensive to replace. So if your old battery pack has some battery life left, even if it’s just an hour, someone else with the same model might actually spend a few bucks on it. Give it a try, although it’s probably best to recycle it.

how to dispose of laptop

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If you cannot sell your old laptop battery or if it’s broken, please dispose of it responsibly; batteries don’t belong into the trash.

By the way, there are many ways you can increase your laptop’s battery life, although it’s an ongoing discussion whether or not it’s a good idea to remove your laptop battery to increase its life.

Power Supply

What’s true for the battery also applies to the power supply. Since the connector changes with almost every model, you won’t likely need an old power supply again once that laptop is broken. Moreover, replacing a power supply is expensive. Those are ideal conditions for the second hand market, so try and sell this part.

If the power supply is broken or doesn’t sell, do consider keeping the the power cable (left). It might fit into another power supply or device of yours.

how to dispose of laptop safely

Are you wondering whether you can re-use the power supply of an old desktop computer? Yes, maybe.

RAM

Memory sticks usually are easy to remove as shown in the video above. Note that there are many different types RAM. Not only do they differ in storage capacity (measured in GB) and clock speed (measured in MHz), but also in shape, which is reflected in the name (e.g. DDR2 vs. DDR3).

how to dispose of laptop safely

Since memory technology doesn’t change that frequently, you might have other devices that can use the old laptop’s RAM. For example I doubled my netbook’s RAM from 1GB to 2GB with the old 2GB memory stick from my laptop, when I upgraded my laptop with a new 8GB RAM kit. If you no longer have any productive use for those old memory sticks, either try to sell them or build your own RAM disk.

HDD/SSD

An old hard drive won’t make you a lot of money. Besides, getting your data off it before sending it to someone else is a hassle. While an old hard drive shouldn’t be used to store any important data, it can be used to store non-essential data, for example movies or music.

Fortunately, HDDs or SSDs are easy to remove and re-use. Whether you find an IDE or SATA HDD or a SSD in your laptop, you can mount it into a 2.5″ USB case and thus turn it into an external drive. A 2.5″ laptop drive in a USB enclosure is exactly what you buy as external hard, only that you already have the drive and the USB adapter is cheap.

how to dispose of laptop safely

CMOS Battery

The CMOS battery is a coin cell that sits on the motherboard and powers low-level system functions while the laptop is turned off. This little bugger is to blame when your system no longer remembers the time or when the BIOS keeps losing its settings. Those batteries are used on all computer motherboards and in many other devices and are thus worth keeping. You will not be able to sell them for much, but it’s good to have one around for emergencies. Store it in a dark, cool, and dry place.

how to dispose of laptop battery

Optical Drive

Much like an old hard drive, you can re-use your computer’s optical drive with an external USB enclosure. To get the right case, you need to identify the type of connector the CD/DVD/Blu-ray drive uses to connect to your laptop’s motherboard (IDE vs. SATA).

Display

The display potentially is the most valuable part, given it’s still in a good condition. But it’s also one of the parts that can be tough to remove. Be extra careful when removing and subsequently shipping it, LCDs are extremely fragile.

CPU

In terms of value, your laptop’s CPU is head to head with the display. This is definitely a part you should try and sell, given it isn’t permanently smoldered onto the motherboard. If you are lucky, you will find that your  laptop’s CPU is mounted into a socket that sits on the motherboard. But first you probably have to remove the passive cooling system that sits on top of it. Be careful when disassembling the cooling system and removing the CPU. Try not to touch the CPU’s pins, but instead hold the unit around the edges.

how to dispose of laptop

Other Parts

There are many more parts that you might be able to extract and play with, including the keyboard, touchpad, webcam, card reader, or fingerprint reader. Many of those are cheap to buy new or simply don’t break, and thus won’t sell for much. Also keeping them doesn’t make much sense, unless you have a cool project in mind. However, if there are any parts that break easily on the specific laptop model you own, for example a hinge or fan, you might actually discover a niche market for that particular part.

Leftovers

There will be parts that you cannot re-use or sell, for example parts that are broken or parts that no one needs. This may include the battery, power supply, display, the motherboard, or the plastic casing of the entire laptop. Please don’t simply trash your partially plundered laptop. Whatever is left of it still contains valuable resources that can be recovered in a recycling process.

Worldwide, many companies and stores take back old electronics and make sure they get recycled. If you’re from the US, please visit the EPA website for information on what you can do with old electronics. Cities in most European countries offer recycling stations for electronic devices. In some places you might even have a local collection bin for household electronics.

Conclusion

Even broken laptops contain a lot of valuable parts. Some are worth keeping as a backup and others can make you a little money, which you can then invest into a new device. If you’re lucky, you might make more money selling the parts of your laptop, than selling the whole functional unit.

Note that a working unit can potentially be upgraded with new parts and is good for many cool uses. More RAM and replacing an HDD with a SSD can do wonders. So unless you are eager to try out this article, try to upgrade your old hardware and meanwhile be sure not to destroy your laptop ahead of its time. Finally, a computer that no longer turns on, isn’t necessarily broken beyond repair. Before you go ahead and pick it apart, try to troubleshoot where the fault lies and you might be able to fix it.

What are the best things you could extract from an old laptop and did you use any of the low value parts for a cool project?

Image credits: Trashed Laptop via Shutterstock, CPU via Shutterstock

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Comments (43)
  • Mel

    Here is a question that I hope you can answer. Before I ask the question let me give you some insights of the power section in my laptop. I know that you shouldn’t leave the ac plugged in as the battery can be affected by lessening it’s life. I also know that removing the connection to the laptop while it is plugged in can cause sparks and possible damage to the connector. Is it ok to remove the ac plug going into the dc adapter and can that cause problems? To remove the battery is the answer and then the laptop can have direct power. It will be directly turned off when powering down. However for the battery to last, you have to re-install it every few weeks, charge it up and then when using the battery, it has 20% charge and again remove it. Doing this over a period of time, would it cause connection problems? It is very cumbersome to remove the ac which goes into the socket of my power strip all the time. Any suggestions will be appreciated. Thank you for your help.

    Mel

  • DUANE WINTEMUTE

    Thanks for the extra ideas, would have never thought of external cd/dvd, mind you where I’m situated things like that are not carried in stores.

  • Philip Yusenda

    Nice idea!
    Now where did I put those dead laptops…

  • Jonathan

    that is a good idea to recycle our laptop or at least sell apart… some people say that you could extract gold from your motherboard, pure gold, but i guess you need a ton of motherboard… or maybe you could invent something using your old laptops… or create your own laptop using old part? sounds good…

    • Tina Sieber

      Electronic waste contains a lot of precious metals, not least gold. The booming recycling industry has long figured out how to recapture gold and they are fine tuning their methods for many other rare metals.

  • James Van Damme

    If it still works, put Linux on it. You’ll probably be shocked on how fast it runs.
    I have an 8 year old Toshiba sitting here, 256MB ram, running Puppy. I can’t edit movies, but it does everything else I need.

    • Tina Sieber

      Great tip James! Nothing like an old computer to try new things. :)

    • James Van Damme

      Of course I put Linux on my new computers too!

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.