Recycle old computers and computer parts – safely!

You’ve noticed that your phone is slowing down, or you wish your old computer had more bells and whistles. So you start looking around for a new device – but what do you do with the old one? Nowadays there are a lot of options for recycling hardware and disposing of e-waste. Just make sure you take the right steps to backup and wipe your data first!
Map of world made of green plants on beige background with recycling symbols
Donating or recycling used hardware is the planet-friendly option

Recycling electronics

Discarded electronics, or e-waste, can do a lot of damage to the environment if they aren’t handled correctly. Many contain heavy metals and other hazardous materials that can cause air pollution if incinerated or seep into the groundwater if buried in landfills. As a result, it can even be illegal in some places to simply toss used devices into the trash. With this in mind, many electronic manufacturers and retailers have programs to help you dispose of your old hardware. Even better, some devices can be donated and refurbished, giving them a new lease on life and cutting down on waste. In the case of computers, smartphones or anything else that contains your personal data, however, it is important to carefully erase it all before taking further steps.

Where to donate or recycle computers

Companies and governments alike are joining the push to recycle e-waste. For example in the United States, Apple, Dell, HP and Best Buy all have programs allowing customers to send in or drop off old products for recycling or refurbishing. Simply visit the website of your device manufacturer for the specifics. You can also perform a web search to find local third-party electronics refurbishers and recyclers. In that case, it is worth selecting a certified electronics recycler – this ensures that the organization meets environmental standards for reuse and recycling, not to mention good security and worker health practices. Two such certifications are the Responsible Recycling Standard for Electronic Recyclers (R2) and E-Stewards-Standard for Responsible Recycling and Reuse of Electronic Equipment (e-Stewards)

Protect your data: Steps to take before you recycle computers and hardware

Think of all the sensitive or private information that is stored on your device’s hard drive: passwords, personal photos, important documents, online banking information, addresses, phone numbers…  Whether you are donating your computer or sending it off to have the computer parts recycled, you should take the time to make sure it has been completely wiped clean of all your information.

The first step is to save all files that you want to keep. Use whatever archiving method you prefer – an external hard drive, USB flash drives, or cloud storage, for instance. Uploading your data to the cloud can be a particularly convenient solution – it’s easy to download whatever you want on your new computer or phone directly to that device, and you can leave duplicate copies in the cloud as a secure backup.

Once you are sure you have saved everything you want to keep from your old computer, it’s time to delete all the data – a multi-step process known as wiping your hard drive:
  1. Delete all your files. If you have sensitive documents like your tax information on your computer, consider using specialized software that meets standards for secure deletion, like File Shredder.
  2. Uninstall all software. Before uninstalling, you should also unlink any programs that automatically sync with online cloud backups and deauthorize your old computer from any programs that limit the number of computers you can install the software on.
  3. Clear your internet browser(s). This means deleting all browsing history, saved passwords and account information. The exact process will differ depending on the browser in question, but in most cases you should go to Privacy & Security in your browser Settings and follow the instructions there.
  4. Restore device to factory settings. A factory reset will completely wipe your device’s hard drive, so be very sure you have everything you need before you take this final step. Again, the exact process will vary by device, but in most cases you need the computer or phone’s Settings menu. For example, on a Windows computer go to Settings > Update and Recovery.

Good to know: and e-waste recycling is committed to environmental sustainability, and all used hardware in our offices is donated or recycled. In 2020, together with our parent company United Internet we were able to reduce CO2 emissions by 973.33 metric tons through the responsible recycling of old hardware.

We hope you found this information useful! We look forward to your feedback below.

Images: 1&1/Shutterstock

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