Although the amount of materials harmful to the environment--both through toxicity and mining side effects--have reduced in computer designs, there's still quite a few valuable scrap metals, materials and even intact components that you can use for a return on investment. It works even better if you have a steady source of old or broken computers that you didn't buy at retail price, but any level of computer recycling can benefit from a few of these dismantling, safety and organization tips.
Aluminum Components Are The Most Plentiful
When working with most computers, aluminum is either the first or second material you'll run into at all, and usually the first metal. The exception is with many modern computers that have a plastic or acrylic case or decorative molding instead of a formed aluminum case.
If your computer is covered in plastic, the casing is usually held together with tabs--rarely screws, but you'll need a screwdriver set for the rest of the computer anyway. You can store and recycling cases best by simply stacking them once everything else is removed, but it's possible to take the framework apart by removing screws, rivets, and/or sliding metal tabs.
Be careful when pulling out any framework supports such as tabs or struts, as they could have been quickly machined with a sharp edge. There's actually a quality of life feature for custom computers and some high-end major manufacturer computers where the edges are rounded off, but many computers will still cut you if you slide your finger against the metal edges with even moderate force.
Inside the computer, a significant aluminum source is the heat sink. These are solid metal blocks with thin, heat-displacing fins that aid in cooling and usually have a fan attached to the top to bring air through the fins. There are sometimes smaller heat sinks on components such as the northbridge and southbridge, or the video card.
Although heat sinks are usually made of aluminum, they're also often made of one of the other valuable, plentiful scrap metals in computers: copper.
Copper Recycling For Computers
Copper heat sinks aren't the usual component inside computers, but they're growing in popularity. Once an option only for high-end gaming computers, graphic design computers, or research systems that have a competent computer designer in the research business, more standard computers are appearing with heat sinks made of fused or otherwise connected aluminum and metal components.
A more guaranteed source of copper is the power supply, but you need to be careful. Power supply capacitors can hold charges for an indeterminate amount of time depending on the model. It likely won't be more than a week, but make sure that you properly discharge the power supply, or you're in for a painful shock. Working on power supplies that were recently on could even kill.
Inside the power supply is a block made of copper, aluminum, and other proprietary materials depending on the model. The block is also wrapped with a thick, copper coil. For safety, it's usually better to turn the power supply in for recycling as a whole unit.
When pulling these different parts and materials away, be sure to store every materials as separately as you can. A storage bin for copper, gold scraping, and other materials that you can get in large enough numbers is helpful, but you can also drop in whole components if that's an easier organization method.
Contact a scrap metal professional to discuss current rates for recycling computer materials, as well as advice on quick scrapping.