In a little noticed update to its website, Apple, the world's largest computer company, said this week that it would begin recycling old Macs, PCs and monitors sent to them through the mail -- and they're even picking up the shipping bill.

Apple's e-waste recycling program was first launched in 2005, under pressure from environmental activists who've hounded major electronics-makers to take back and recycle unwanted consumer goods. The program gradually expanded to include mobile phones from any manufacturer, then PCs, but users faced a $30 recycling fee if the company didn't think the old hardware had any market value.

In an update posted Tuesday to little fanfare, that fee went away, replaced by a promise of a free shipping label for anyone who calls 877-712-2405. The company said it was also offering gift cards to its stores if the hardware being turned in has any value.

The program is being run through a partnership with New York-based We Recycle, which carries an e-Stewards certification for environmental responsibility.

Electronic waste has become an enormous problem in developing nations, where old computers, cell phones, televisions and more have typically been dumped in landfills, burned or left for local residents to pick through for potentially valuable scrap. That's dangerous, however, with many electronics containing substances like lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, beryllium and flame retardants. Exposure to these substances can lead to a variety of health effects, including cancer and reproductive disorders.

The e-Stewards program estimated that just between 11-14 percent of e-waste in the U.S. is recycled.

(H/T: Mac Rumors)