San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Technological Trash Gets Recycled

One of the great puzzles of our times is what to do with our technological throwaways. Computers, monitors, scanners, printers, fax machines and cell phones don’t last forever, and sometimes end life a lot sooner than planned. They may still be usable but, alas, of an older generation and are put on shelves to languish.

They are not wanted in landfills, so you can’t just toss them out in the garbage. They contain components that are poisonous and pollute the environment: lead, titanium and cadmium, as well as plastic, rubber and wires.

At an environmental fair last month in the coffee town of Grecia, west of San José, a booth sponsored by the University of Costa Rica’s Grecia branch showed that technological trash can be safely unloaded.

In front of the municipal offices, right on the town square, Hamer Salazar, a biology professor and director of the university, and a group of students received and registered computers, keyboards, monitors, cell phones, iPods and printers. All items were displayed along the curb for everyone to see and realize that technological trash can be recycled. As cars pulled up, students helped unload, classify and display the items.

“A lot of this material can be reused,” said Salazar, who also teaches a course on health and environment. “Normally people just don’t know what to do with their old computers and other electronic leftovers. A company in Cartago (east of the capital), Fortech, specializes in recycling materials considered dangerous to the environment.

They’ll take everything apart and see where it can be reused.”

The students were volunteers working toward their obligatory 300 hours of community service. Later, they would compile data on types of material collected and analyze the results. They would also explore ways to get the message to those holding onto old computers and equipment.

Some companies and government offices need more advance notice.

“Computers may be registered with home offices or with insurance agencies, so they can’t just discard them,” Salazar explained.

“This is our first effort, and we are learning as we go along.”

By the end of the day, more than 600 kilos of electronic equipment had been collected and loaded onto trucks for the trek to Fortech.

“It was a very positive experience with a good response,” Salazar said. “We hope to do this at least once a year.”

For information on recycling technological trash, visit Fortech’s Web site at


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