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How to Properly Dispose of Old Devices

Strategies to avoid losing data or harming the environment.

Getting new electronics is exciting, but how you get rid of your old devices can be cause for concern. Not properly clearing data from technology cast-offs can result in stolen identities and compromised trade secrets. It may even be illegal: At least 29 states have enacted laws that require firms to destroy, dispose or otherwise make personal information unreadable or undecipherable, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

There's also an environmental component to consider. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recycling one million laptops saves enough energy to power the electricity needs of more than 3,500 U.S homes per year. Recycling one million cell phones can recover 35,000 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold and 33 pounds of palladium, says the EPA.

Here are some best practices for disposing of your old electronics.

Don't Delete--Overwrite

Simply deleting files--even from the device's trash or recycle bin--does not permanently remove them from the hard drive, and it's relatively easy for someone to recover deleted files. Instead, use a utility program to overwrite files. There are plenty of free or low-cost programs available, including Active@ KillDisk, DP WIPER, WipeDrive, Eraser, Secure Erase and Darik's Boot and Nuke. The program may ask you for the number of passes it should make--the more passes, the better.

Since sensitive or personal information is also stored on mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads, overwrite data on these devices before recycling. Apple and Android operating systems include overwrite tools through their settings menus. BlackBerry users can use Security Wipe.

Reduce and Recycle

Rather than automatically purchasing a new computer or laptop based on a pre-determined timeframe, evaluate whether a new software version or hardware upgrade can meet your needs. If you must have a new device, consider donating your used equipment to a school or community center.

Retailers such as Best Buy and Staples accept electronics for recycling, regardless of whether or not you purchased it there. In 2011, Staples collected more than 13 million pounds of old technology to be recycled in the U.S.

To find a list of recyclers, visit Not all recyclers accept all electronics, so be sure to call first. Before recycling, remove any batteries, since they need to be recycled separately. You can also view recycling information at the National Center for Electronics Recycling:


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