eBay, Apple, HP and Intel have launched a recycling programme that aims to motivate Americans to safely dispose of their old computers and electronic gadgets.

According to Gartner, US consumers retire or replace about 133,000 personal computers a day, and according to a study commissioned by Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, roughly half of all US households have working but unused consumer electronics products, and roughly 400 million gizmos will be thrown out by 2010.

Associated Press report that if improperly disposed, PCs can leak toxins into the environment, including lead, cadmium, chromium and mercury.

Hidden away

Few people are prepared to pay for professional recycling so old PCs often end up hidden away in lofts, basements, and spare bedrooms. The alternative is to sell the old PC – according to EBay $2.5 billion worth of new and used computers are listed on its site every year. However, some consumers are concerned about financial data and other confidential information that is present on the old machines.

Launching the Rethink initiative at the Consumer Electronics Show, eBay chief executive Meg Whitman said: "You don't want to throw them out, and you don't know what to do with them."

What to do

EBay is making information available including how to get rid of old gadgets and computers safely. It includes details of recyclers across North America and charities that distribute PCs to poor communities.

The site also includes a downloadable program that can be used to wipe data from a PC, so that financial information that was stored on the computer is safe.