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Safely Disposing of Old Computers

Technology is rapidly changing how we do business, especially when it comes to computers.  In the last ten to fifteen years we’ve gone to large desktop machines to compact laptops to handheld iPads and tablet computers.  With each change in technology and each upgrade of a machine comes a weak point for data security that many people simply don’t consider.

When my old desktop computer started crapping out on me, and I decided to “upgrade” to a laptop, I had to fight the impulse to just toss the old computer into the trash.  By taking the steps I took to ensure I disposed of my old computer safely, not only did I protect my data and my client’s sensitive information, but I also benefited the environment.  That’s a two-fer we all should strive for!  Here are the steps I took; save this article and refer to it when you’re about to upgrade your computers.

  1. Backup your files: Save all your computer files to a storage device, or transfer them to your new computer.  You can take advantage of external hard drives or even cloud-based storage services like Google Drive or Dropbox to do this.
  2. Wipe the Hard Drive: You would think that deleting a file would mean just that – DELETING the file.  But, not so – files are sometimes recoverable even if you’ve deleted it properly.  To prevent any old deleted data from getting out into the open, format the hard drive – you may need to consult your computer’s documentation to find out how to do this.
  3. Hard Drive Disposal: There are two things you can do with your hard drive, now that you’ve formatted it.  You can destroy it, or you can re-use it.  Many electronic stores like Best Buy sell a kit that will allow you to turn your old hard drive into an external drive, great for storing backups of your data, or for other uses.  But, if you don’t need this, and you want to just get rid of the hard drive completely, you should destroy it.  Remove the hard drive from the computer, and remove the cover housing.  This will expose the hard drive discs that actually contain the data.  Then, wearing proper safety equipment like goggles and working in a safe area, use a hammer to smash the discs into pieces. Be careful, as the pieces can have sharp edges.
  4. Recycle: Look for a computer recycler near you – these places will take your computer parts from you, separate them into their different components (plastic, different types of metals, etc.) and recycle them.  They most likely won’t pay you for the material, and if you give them a computer monitor you will have to pay the disposal fee for the mercury that is contained inside – usally around $20 to $50.  These recyclers will typically take everything – the keyboard, mouse, monitor, computer tower, spare cords, even the broken pieces of your smashed hard drive.

Don’t just toss your computer into the nearest dumpster, as that puts it in the landfill.  Computer parts are not biodegradable – recycling them keeps them out of the landfill and allows the component parts to be remade into new computer parts or parts for other products.

Steve Cousino, ACC, CTA, LS has been a travel professional since 2005 and currently operates Exclusive Events At Sea (http://www.exclusiveeventsatsea.com) focusing on themed group cruises, and Journeys By Steve (http://www.journeysbysteve.com) specializing in premium & deluxe cruise vacations, and personalized experiences in Italy and the British Isles.  He can be reached at steve@journeysbysteve.com.


  One thought on “Safely Disposing of Old Computers

  1. We actually have old hard drives shredded; but we do as you suggest and everything goes to our local e-waste drop site (fortunately we aren’t charged a fee for the monitors). They actually take all electronic waste, live televisions, batteries, etc.

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