Personal computers (PCs) have changed a lot over the past few decades, especially after recycling and efficiency standards have shaped entire industries. There aren't as many huge, solid pieces of metal or minerals inside the modern computer, but there are still a few items to keep an eye out for. Here are a few location and removal tips for getting recyclable materials out of modern and slightly obsolete, but not yet antique computers.
Many modern computer cases have a plastic/acrylic outer shielding for design purposes, but metal is still used underneath. Aluminum sheet metal is light and sturdy, and remains as a mainstay because of some of the rough handling that some computers face by some users. An accidental kick or high internal temperatures can damage the plastic and compromise the entire system.
The easiest way to recycling cases for aluminum is to remove the contents and stack the cases. If you need to break the case down into smaller components for compact storage, you'll need either a screwdriver or rivet remover. Different case brands may use multiple fastener types, including sliding tabs or buttons.
Be careful when tearing any metal struts or beams apart. Some screws may be stripped or difficult to cut, but resorting to tearing with brute force may tear the metal and cut you in the process. Wear tear-resistant work gloves if you must rip anything harder than case plastic apart.
The motherboard connects most of the components inside the computer, but only has a few recyclable materials permanently attached. Motherboards are a type of Printed Circuit Board, and are covered in many smaller components with copper traces moving between different locations.
It's not often worth the effort to scrape the copper away, but be sure to have a small tray ready for removal.
A few core components are closely connected to the motherboard. The processor is an aluminum-covered chip with gold pins that can be scraped away if you have a dedicated gold recycling plan. Before scraping anything, make sure that the processor isn't still relevant by checking the model number. Processors are worth hundreds of dollars--into the thousands range at the top of the line hobbyist level--and scraping away a few dollars in gold isn't a good trade-off.
Attached to the processor is a heat sink made out of aluminum. The heat sink is a solid metal component with metal fins sticking out, and is usually attached with a heat-dried layer of thermal transfer paste. Carefully remove the heat sink if you want to salvage the processor, or use a screwdriver or other thin tool to chip and pry at the heat sink.
Some heat sinks may be made of copper, or a joined fitting of aluminum and copper. Contact a desktop computer and laptop recycling professional to discuss the systems you have on hand to figure out which components and materials may be worth your time.
Contact a recycler, like Ranch Town Recycling Center Inc., for more help.