This post was most recently updated on August 1st, 2018
Maybe your old computer died and you bought a new one, but now you’re not sure what to do with the old dead one. Why, recycle it, of course. According to the EPA, recycling “one million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by more than 3,500 US homes in a year.” In addition to that, PC recycling keeps your computer out of the landfill where the harmful toxins in its components can leach into the soil and the groundwater and ultimately affect people, plants, and animals. So it’s just the right thing to do.
There are, however, several important steps you should take before turning that old computer over to the recycling or waste management plant.
Wipe It Clean
When it comes time to get t rid of your computer, you can’t just throw it away because you have to ensure that strangers can’t access your personal and sensitive information – for example, account numbers, passwords, license keys/registration numbers, medical information, tax information, addresses and phone numbers, and personal documents. And you have to do more than just empty files into the trash bin. If you just do that, there will still be traces and bits left on the hard drive. Unscrupulous, tech-savvy people can still get at your information and use it in the profitable identity-theft arena.
So here’s what you need to do . . .
1. Preserve Important Files
First, save your important files by backing them up or transferring them to your new computer. A good solution here is an external hard drive.
- Delete Browsing History
Most browsers preserve information about your browsing history. This includes not just sites visited, but also usernames and passwords, things you wouldn’t want a stranger having access to. So the next step is to fully delete your browsing history on all the browsers you have used.
- Delete/Overwrite Sensitive Files
You’ll also have certain files (such as those with tax documents) that you know contain sensitive information, and these you need to delete and overwrite. You can get specialized software specifically designed for this purpose and that provides secure deletion meeting government standards.
- Engage Drive Encryption
Also for PC recycling, you will need to turn on or engage your computer’s drive encryption, which you can easily do for Windows PCs with SSD drives.
- Deauthorize the Computer
Deauthorizing your computer is important because some programs such as MS Office 365 allow installation on more than one computer or allow more than one computer access. So, before uninstalling programs, you need to deauthorize these accounts.
- Uninstall Programs
Next, uninstall all your programs because some of them, MS Office, for example, may contain personal information.
- Wipe the Hard Drive
The last necessary step in making sure your computer is free of sensitive information is to wipe the hard drive clean. You do a factory reset to ensure removal of all personal files and software.
Haul It Away
Once you’ve completed all these steps, it’s time to think about waste management and getting rid of the actual physical device. Proper PC recycling will mean taking yours to a center that specializes in electronics recycling. But if you don’t have one in your area or don’t know where one is, the next best thing is to call a reputable waste-hauling company that recycles and repurposes as much as possible.