How to Recycle Your Computer Safely

Getting a new computer can be exciting, but you don’t want to damper that feeling by being left wondering what to do with your old computer. Because of the sensitive information and the potentially hazardous components inside computers, you don’t want to simply throw your computer in the regular garbage, yet you shouldn’t throw it in your regular recycling bin either.

Around the world, electronic waste (e-waste) is a growing problem, with around 40 million pounds created each year. Exposure to the various types of metals and chemicals inside computers and other electronics — such as through unsafe recycling methods used to recover certain valuable metals inside e-waste — can cause negative health and environmental effects, as the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences explains.

However, that doesn’t mean you have to keep your old computer sitting around your house or office just to avoid it ending up in a landfill or in the wrong hands. Instead, there are safe ways to clear your information from your device and then responsibly recycle your computer.

Wipe the Data on Your Computer

Wipe the data on your computer by not just deleting files but overwriting files.
Wipe the data on your computer by not just deleting files but overwriting files.

Before you recycle your computer, you want to make sure that whoever uses your computer next is unable to access your data. To maximize your security, you need to go a step further than signing out of applications and sending files to the trash. Doing so may seem to clear your sensitive information from your computer, but the data may still exist on your hard drive, and it can be accessed through data recovery software by the next user.

Instead, you need to overwrite the data on your computer, meaning your hard drive data gets replaced by essentially meaningless 1s and 0s so that recovering any files is generally not possible. While there may not be a foolproof method to completely wipe the data on your computer, a variety of different software programs exist to help you overwrite your data. Best Buy, for example, recommends using Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN), or you could have a professional technician help you with the process.

When overwriting data, since the aim is to wipe everything, you will generally lose access to all your files, applications, operating system, etc. Depending on how you recycle your computer, such as if you’re donating it or selling it to a friend, you may want to re-install an operating system and certain applications, meaning you should prepare ahead of time, such as by creating a bootable clone or downloading the data and systems you need to a CD.

Determine Where You Want to Recycle the Computer

You can recycle your computer at several major retailers or give your computer new life by donating it or selling it.
You can recycle your computer at several major retailers or give your computer new life by donating it or selling it.

Once you’re comfortable with wiping the data from your hard drive, consider the various ways you can recycle your computer. That does not have to strictly mean giving your device to a recycling facility; it can also mean recycling your computer in the sense that you give it a new life with another user, such as by selling it or donating it.

If you would prefer to more traditionally recycle the device so the parts can be used elsewhere, look for a reputable e-waste recycler. You can often find this information through local or state government sites, as your area may have collection events for e-waste. You can also search online for stores in your area that accept e-waste. Several large retailers like Best Buy and Staples allow you to bring your old device into the store to drop off for recycling, or you may find another local store that provides that service.

When recycling laptops, you should check what type of battery you have (such as by looking up the product details for the specific make of your laptop) and see whether the retailer accepts that battery for recycling. Organizations like Call2Recycle help make it easier to find where you can safely recycle whatever type of battery you have.

Taking these steps may require a bit more work on your end in comparison to most forms of recycling, but because of the complexity and dangers of e-waste, it’s important to recycle your computer in a safe way.