Institutional disposition and management of end-of-life electronics

Callie W. Babbitt, Eric Williams, Ramzy Kahhat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Institutions both public and private face a challenge to develop policies to manage purchase, use, and disposal of electronics. Environmental considerations play an increasing role in addition to traditional factors of cost, performance and security. Characterizing current disposition practices for end-of-life electronics is a key step in developing policies that prevent negative environmental and health impacts while maximizing potential for positive social and economic benefits though reuse. To provide a baseline, we develop the first characterization of quantity, value, disposition, and flows of end-of-life electronics at a major U.S. educational institution. Results of the empirical study indicate that most end-of-first-life electronics were resold through public auction to individuals and small companies who refurbish working equipment for resale or sell unusable products for reclamation of scrap metal. Desktop and laptop computers sold for refurbishing and resale averaged U.S. $20-100 per unit, with computers sold directly to individuals for reuse reaching $250-350 per unit. This detailed assessment was coupled with a benchmarking survey of end-of-life electronics management practices at other U.S. universities. Survey results indicate that while auctions are still commonplace, an increasing number of institutions are responding to environmental concerns by creating partnerships with local recycling and resale entities and mandating domestic recycling. We use the analyses of current disposition practices as input to discuss institutional strategies for managing electronics. One key issue is the tension between benefits of used equipment sales, in terms of income for the institution and increased reuse for society, and the environmental risks because of unknown downstream practices.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5366-5372
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number12
StatePublished - 15 Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes


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