Everything you need to know about recycling keyboards.

iStock_keyboardMedium.jpg As the heyday of the desktop computer comes to an end, so does the popularity of the stand-alone keyboard. Sure, some people still use them with docking stations, but most people have no use for their keyboards anymore. Can you recycle that old keyboard that is taking up space in your garage? On the other hand, as tablets rise in popularity, the number of tiny keyboards is also on the rise. Is it possible to recycle tablet keyboards? The answer to both questions is a resounding yes. Keyboards can be recycled through electronics recycling programs, which are available all over the country, so you should have no problem finding a place to take your old item. We have several tips on how to locate government and nonprofit programs that can help you responsibly dispose of your keyboard.

What are keyboards made of?

Computer keyboards are made of plastic and coated in a material called brominated flame retardant. Similar materials are used to make mice, the plastic casing around a monitor, and other personal electronics. The goal of the flame retardant, as the name implies, is to keep the keyboard from burning up if it comes in contact with a heater, cigarette or other very hot object. There is some evidence that suggests brominated flame retardants are carcinogens. They are banned in Europe but still commonly used in the United States. Most keyboards have a thin wire with a USB or other port at the end that is used to plug the device into a computer. That cord is filled with copper wiring and coated in plastic. There are also wireless keyboards that run on batteries. Plastics, especially those coated in flame retardants, should not go in landfills and incinerators. The flame retardant can slowly seep off keyboards and mix with rainwater and soil. When the material is burned, it releases dangerous chemicals including dioxins. In addition, there is a whole recycling category for electronics plastic, which means things like keyboard and mice are relatively easy to recycle. Please make sure you get your keyboard to a qualified recycling agency so they can take care of it.

How to recycle computer keyboards

Any program that accepts computers for recycling should take your old keyboard, mouse, and other peripheral items. There are quite a few places you can look for electronic waste (or e-waste) recycling programs. Resources are particularly abundant in the twenty-fives states that have passed e-waste recycling laws. To find out if your state is one of them, visit the Electronics Take Back Coalition website and check out their interactive map. Major retailers such as Best Buy and Staples offer e-waste recycling programs. Check their websites for more details; what they accept can vary from state to state. Some smaller retailers will take keyboards as well. For example, several Cartridge World stores in California take keyboards, mice and other electronic equipment. Every state and nearly every county has some program to recycle electronic waste, including keyboards. Visit the website of your municipal solid waste agency or give them a call to find out how they recycle e-waste. Programs vary widely depending on where you live. For example, in Davenport, Iowa, residents can drop off e-waste at a special collection facility five days a week. Residents of Olathe, Kansas can take their unwanted computers to a permanent collection center, but they must call one day in advance to schedule an appointment. In Monterey Park (located near Los Angeles), residents need to wait for special e-waste collection events, which happen only a couple times a year. In addition, watch for other special e-waste recycling events in your area. Private companies, schools, churches, nonprofits and other groups may hold them on occasion. Please note: If you are trying to recycle the keyboard that goes along with a tablet, you should have no problem recycling it through any program that takes tablets.

How to reuse keyboards

If your keyboard is still in good shape, consider donating it to a charitable organization that accepts electronic equipment for reuse and recycling. There are hundreds of organizations like Computer Recycling for Virginia and the Cincinnati Computer Cooperative t want your end-of-life goods. Many of these nonprofits use your donations to help children learn in the United States and abroad, or to provide job and skills training to disadvantaged adults. If you want to locate the electronics reuse organization near you, do a Google search or ask your municipal solid waste agency for a recommendation. Ways to reuse whole keyboards in craft projects are limited, but the keys can be used for all sorts of things. Take a look at Pinterest for ideas on using keyboard keys for things such as picture frames, bags, pencil holders, and push pins. Like Scrabble tiles, you can use the keys with letters to spell out people’s names or initials on key chains and jewelry. Artists have even used them for sculptures and light fixtures.