More than half the old personal computers replaced by consumers last year were put to productive use instead of being dumped or stored away, according to a nationwide survey by MetaFacts, a San Diego research firm.

This may be bad news for PC makers who want older machines to be regarded as technologically obsolete, prompting consumers to buy the latest models. But it’s good for the environment, as recycling programs come on line that can capture discarded PCs before they pose hazards, said Dan Ness, the principal analyst for the firm’s annual Technology User Profile.

“The longer people hold on to their old computers, the less likely they’re going to end up in landfill or go to China” for unregulated disposal, Ness said. “A lot of people say when they get new computers they’re keeping the old ones and using them, or giving them to friends who use them. It’s a picture that surprises the PC makers.”

The survey, conducted last year, included 7,527 households and 2,500 workplaces around the country. It found that 30.1 percent of household respondents keep their old computers and use them, 22 percent pass them on to friends and 17.3 percent keep them in storage. An additional 8.9 percent donate the old machines to charity and 8.6 percent junk them. Only 3.6 percent said they recycle their old PCs.

The stockpiling and disposal of unwanted computers and other electronic waste has become a major environmental issue in recent years because of the toxic ingredients they contain, including lead, cadmium and mercury. California has implemented a system that aims to collect some of the most hazardous e-waste — computer monitors and televisions — for safe recycling. But environmental groups call for more stringent regulation and fault electronics makers for not taking responsibility for the hazards their products pose.

Ness noted that his survey suggested that businesses are recycling old computers at a 19.1 percent rate, six times higher than households. Homes with small children were twice as likely to keep and still use their older computers (43.3 percent) than single-person households (20.9 percent).

The survey found that lower-income families were more likely to recycle discarded computers than wealthier respondents.

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