If you're getting rid of an old desktop computer, consider everything inside for their recycling potential. Copper, aluminum, some steel, small amounts of gold and magnets can be recovered and sent to the right place, but only if you break things down to the component level. Take a look at a few computer recycling points to figure out where your attention is needed inside computers and whether its better to recycle the whole unit or not.
Sources Of Aluminum
Aluminum is one of the first recyclable metals you'll encounter in a computer, although it may be hidden by plastic. Acrylic molds are often used for computer cases to add style, but there is still a shell of aluminum that protects everything in the form of case panels.
The frame of the computer is also made of aluminum, which can be hard to break down without a screwdriver. A computer frame is kept together with either screws, sliding tabs, rivets or a combination of the three. If you'd like to prepare a pile of aluminum for easy storage you can take it apart, but it may be better to just keep the case together as one unit. Some cases are made with steel instead of aluminum for protection, such as with industrial computers.
A computer's heat sink is used to draw heat away from high-temperature components such as the processor. The heat sink is a block of aluminum with thin fins that allow air to pass through for additional, passive cooling. Be careful, as these fins are cut with a machine process and are left with sharp edges, which can slice skin with a simply drag of the hand or a simple brush of the finger while working inside the computer.
Heat sinks can also be made of copper in high-performance computers such as gaming or design computers, but there's more copper sources to find.
Sources Of Copper
Copper is available in large amounts from wires inside the computer, but these wires are easy to access. The big copper collection is inside the power supply in the form of winding copper bands. Unless you are a certified electrician or know an electrician, leave the wire inside the heat sink for safety.
Power supplies can hold lethal charges of electrician inside capacitors for an indeterminate amount of time depending on the capacity branding and amount used, so it's better to be safe than sorry if you don't know how to professionally discharge the system. Guides showing how to discharge a power supply by holding down the power button are not sufficient, as this is simply for resetting circuits inside the computer and may not remove enough latent charge to be safe.
Other Materials In Small Number
Computer recycling hype will certainly point you towards gold, but there isn't much gold inside computers unless you're scrapping hundreds of computers and collecting a pile of gold shavings. A more promising material would be the rare earth magnets inside older, platter-based hard drives. These magnets can be sent to recycling centers or sold to hobbyists interested in these extremely strong magnets. Keep in mind that newer solid state drives (SSDs) do not have or need these magnets.
Contact a waste management professional to discuss current pay rates for recycling materials to decide if taking systems apart is worth it for individual recycling rates, or if the entire unit would be more profitable. Contact a business, such as B-P Trucking Inc, for more information about garbage recycling.