When students buy Dell computers, they are often aware of the processor’s power and the monitor’s size. But when they discard the machines, they may not be aware of what they’re potentially throwing out — lead, mercury and other hazardous materials.

On Wednesday Yale students raised awareness on Cross Campus about Dell’s alleged environmentally unsound business practices and the dangers of improper computer disposal. The Yale Student Environmental Coalition partnered with Ecopledge, a national consumer activist group, to pressure Dell to accept old computers and recycle them.

“My goal is to primarily educate people,” said Maggie Dietrich ’05, acting coordinator of Ecopledge at Yale and a member of YSEC. “I don’t think people realize how significant of a problem electronic waste is nationwide.”

The Ecopledge information table on Cross Campus included informational signs, flyers and a petition urging Dell to develop a recycling policy for individual consumers in the United States.

Dell has the greatest market share of personal computer sales in America, especially among college students, according to an Ecopledge information sheet. While Dell currently accepts old computers from businesses and institutions in the United States, the same offer is not extended to private customers.

Yale’s recycling coordinator C.J. May said that while IBM and Hewlett-Packard have programs allowing individual consumers to return old computers, few customers have taken advantage of this option, which comes at an additional cost.

If the cost of recycling were included in the original price of the computer — as is done with lead acid car batteries — these programs would be more successful, May said.

While the computer industry is beginning to initiate recycling programs, Yale has been recycling old computers for several years, May said.

Used computers that still function with at least a Pentium One chip are donated to charities in the New Haven area or sometimes overseas through the World Computer Exchange. The University sends unsalvageable computers to a North Branford company, which Yale pays to properly dispose of the computers, May said.

Ecopledge has been active at Yale for the last three years, and computer recycling is not the first issue it has raised on the Yale campus.

Last year, Yale’s Ecopledge chapter, in conjunction with other environmental organizations, pressured PepsiCo to use recycled plastic in their soda bottles. Forty percent of Yale students also signed a petition last year refusing to work for Ecopledge’s target companies, whose practices the group condemns, Dietrich said. Ford, Sprint and Disney are three of 13 target companies listed on Ecopledge’s Web site.

Ecopledge recently achieved one of its goals Nov. 13, when Staples succumbed to two years of nationwide pressure and initiated several environmental reforms, including the refusal to use paper products from endangered forests and increasing the amount of recycled material in their paper products.

“What’s exciting is that it is the most effective corporate accountability campaign and Yale has had one of the most successful chapters,” said Billy Parish ’04, who led Yale’s Ecopledge chapter last year.