Old Computers Are Not Deleted:
The Electronics Recycling Process

Discarded computers, TVs, cellular phones and other electronic equipment are a growing disposal problem in San Mateo County. Electronics contain heavy metals, and Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) found in computer monitors and televisions may contain up to 8 lbs of hazardous lead.

But what happens to your computer after you take it for recycling? There has been a lot of press about how electronics are shipped overseas, where labor is cheap and environmental and safety regulations are weak or non-existent. In extreme cases, electronic discards are left in ditches and generally contaminate and pollute the air and water of developing nations. However, in San Mateo County, an effort has been made to collect the electronics and to ensure that they are dismantled and recycled properly within California.

HMR is an international company that turns high-tech "junk" into marketable commodities, extending the life of electronics and keeping them from becoming problems in the landfill. HMR's Sacramento facility handles some of the electronic waste generated in the Bay Area.

central processing facility at HMR
HMR's Central Processing Facility in Sacramento

ewaste recycling assembly line
HMR workers manually dismantle most electronic equipment and sort out valuable commodities that
are sold to various recyclers.

ewaste recycling assembly line
CRTs ready to be "crushed" for recycling. HMR accumulates quantities like this each week.

ewaste recycling assembly line
The CRT crusher is completely self-contained in a transportable shipping container.

ewaste recycling assembly line
Crushed CRT glass, coated with lead, ready for processing by a lead smelter.

ewaste recycling assembly line

ewaste recycling assembly line
Other components from electronics
are separated and sold as commodities
to various recyclers.

The recycling process for CRTs begins on a disassembly line. Workers remove the recyclable plastic or wooden case, metal chassis, yoke, PC board, wire and metal strap from the CRT. These materials are all sorted for individual commodity sales. The resulting CRT is a whole glass tube (impregnated with lead) with an internal metal frame.

The CRTs are then loaded onto a conveyor system that leads into the CRT crusher. HMR built the CRT crusher in a transportable shipping container. This self-contained unit allows for easy transportation, total weather protection, dust containment and complete air filtration. The crusher can process 100-150 CRTs per hour, or over 15 tons per day.

Once the CRTs enter the crusher, they drop into a rotating hammer mill. The hammers hit the glass, causing the CRT to implode into pieces of glass and metal. A magnet pulls metal from the mix, and a screen is used to sift the glass to produce the desired size. Metals and crushed glass are separately discharged from the bottom of the system into commodity containers for shipment. The lead-contaminated glass is shipped to a primary lead smelter in Missouri. The smelter uses the glass as a fluxing agent in the processing of raw lead ore. The lead from the glass becomes part of their end product, which is then sold to be used in the manufacture of products such as new CRTs, x-ray shielding, bullets and batteries.

HMR sells virtually all materials from electronics to recyclers. Circuit boards are eventually ground up and smelted. The gasses from this process are captured and the resulting metals; lead, tin, gold, and palladium are sold as commodities. Plastics are grouped by and baled by color and sold to plastics recyclers. Steel is sold to a local metal recycler, and wood from older television cabinets is chipped for use as biofuel. With analysts estimating that more than 6,000 computers become obsolete in California every day, the challenge of keeping them out of the landfill continues to grow in magnitude. Fortunately, HMR achieves a nearly 100% diversion rate, utilizing only a small 3-yard bin for landfill-bound trash from their 137,000 square foot facility.

HMR Sacramento opened in March 2002 and has processed over 6.5 million lbs of electronics, the vast majority of which comes from the Bay Area, according to Russ Caswell, General Manager of the facility. All products that arrive in Sacramento are assumed to be obsolete and non-functional, so they are disassembled for recycling. However, some other HMR facilities will evaluate products for marketability. If they are usable, HMR generally remarkets them in the Philippines , where 233 Mhz and faster computers still hold some value (Pentium-3 PCs and newer computers can be remarketed locally). HMR also has processing facilities in the Philippines to demanufacture the truly "ancient" (slower than 233 Mhz) equipment.