Obsolete computers usually end up in the trash heap, although some of their parts would be worth hundreds of dollars if they could be recycled. The biggest obstacle is the glue that binds components to the circuit board; the bond is so strong that only a hammer can smash them asunder.
A new glue, developed by engineer Chris Ober of Cornell University, could make extracting valuable parts from old boards as simple as heating up an oven. Called Alpha-Terp, the epoxy is robust at room temperature but breaks down at 430 degrees Fahrenheit. "Not only is there greater potential for recycling, there's also waste reduction in the manufacturing process," says Ober. He expects that within 15 years computers will be nearly as recyclable as the morning paper. The alternative is not appealing: The National Safety Council estimates that by 2005, some 64 million computers will have reached the end of their useful lives. That could be a lot of landfill.