Has your computer overstayed its welcome? According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, more than 100 million computers become obsolete each year. One or two of them are probably stashed in your office closet.
Before you get rid of these old machines, think about where they’ll end up, cautions Jamal Theodore, a computer repair specialist and owner of Almasi Tech Solutions in Clinton, Maryland. “The different components in old computers can contain toxic substances—like lead and mercury—that shouldn’t be in landfills,” he says.
Fortunately, there are safe, green ways to dispose of old electronics. First, make sure your personal files are erased. Next, decide if your best option is to sell, donate, or recycle the equipment.
THOROUGHLY REMOVE PERSONAL FILES
“It’s important to remove your data because leaving it increases the odds of identify theft,” Theodore says. “No matter how old your system is, someone may be able to access the information that’s on it.”
“I do data recovery professionally, and I can tell you that simply hitting the ‘delete’ button will not permanently erase data,” says Warren Holyfield, CEO of Long Beach, California-based A-Advantage Networking Inc. “A better way to remove sensitive information is to buy software that’s specifically designed to perform a clean wipe of the computer.”
The United States Department of Defense (DOD) has developed specifications for software manufacturers to follow, so look for a package that’s DOD-compliant. The disk wiping software generally costs between $30 to $100.
Some owners go a step further and physically destroy the hard drive, which is where the data resides. “Many people will just take a hammer to the hard drive. It’s one sure-fire way to get rid of the data forever,” Theodore says. Just be sure not to toss the smashed pieces into the trash can where they could end up in a landfill. “It’s best to take all components, no matter how small and smashed, to an electronics recycling location,” he says.
Another option is to remove the hard drive from the system and store it, much like you would an old photo album. Then, you could safely dispose of the other computer components. If you don’t know where to find the hard drive on your computer, ask a tech-savvy friend to help.
DONATE OR SELL YOUR COMPUTER
If your computer is fairly new, you may be able to resell it. If you don’t have the time to wait for a buyer, consider giving it to a worthy charity.
“I plan to donate my old personal computer to an organization that provides technology to children in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. That organization will wipe the data clean for me, and they have a 100% no landfill guarantee,” says Gloria Ware, a Cleveland, Ohio resident who writes Black and Into Green, a blog about environmentalism from an African American perspective.
Another benefit to donating is that you might also receive a tax benefit.
OR JUST RECYCLE IT
“I take my old computers, ironically, to the local landfill. They have a special area for electronics and hazardous