Many of us have a hard time getting rid of once-important documents because we worry about needing them someday or about the security of our data. It can be even worse with old electronics. Do you know how to back up your phone or wipe a laptop clean? And what’s best for the environment: reuse or recycling? This uncertainty often leads to inaction.
Disposing of or donating electronics properly does require a few steps, but it’s not difficult once you’re familiar with the process and the options. Here is some guidance that will allow you to part with that old laptop, smartphone and box of tangled cords securely, safely and smartly.
All of the data on your old smartphone should be backed up on your computer. After making sure it is, you need to remove all of your personal information from the phone. Many manufacturers allow you to “wipe” your device and clear almost everything from the memory by doing what is sometimes called a “hard reset.” Check the owner’s manual or the Web site of the manufacturer to learn how. Next, remove your SIM and SD cards, because even when you “wipe” your device, the cards might still have information stored on them. Cut your SIM card in half.
If your phone is obsolete, there are many places that collect phones for recycling, including your local dump, many Whole Foods stores and even the National Zoo, where you can drop phones and other electronics in a receptacle at the Great Ape House. (The zoo, which was closed at press time because of the federal government’s shutdown, has a stake in electronics recycling because mining for coltan, a material used in cellphones and laptops, poses a threat to the gorilla’s habitat.)
If you’re just looking to upgrade, some companies will recycle your old phone and give you credit toward a new one. Apple started a recycling program last month. The company will recycle your iOS device, Mac or PC and give you a gift card that can be used for the purchase of a new Apple product. The Apple Web site has information to help you determine how much you would receive for trading in your product.
Computers can be challenging to offload simply because of their size. It’s not as easy as just tossing your tiny phone into a bin. But it’s not that hard, either. Just as with your cellphone, the first step is to back up your data to an external hard drive, flash drive or online program.
To effectively “wipe” your computer, Earth911.com recommends that PC users download a program such as Nuke (DBAN) or KillDisk and burn it to a CD or DVD. Once you’ve made a CD or DVD using one of these programs, boot your computer from the disk. Best Buy’s Geek Squad offers a helpful video explaining this process. For Mac users, Apple provides detailed instructions for how to securely erase your data.
Electronics that don’t have memory, such as televisions, stereo equipment, old VCRs and DVD players, monitors and printers, can be recycled at the local dump. Dumps will also take old DVDs, VHS tapes, CDs, cassette tapes and yes, even floppy disks. If you have held on to floppy disks for 15 or 20 years, you can finally let them go. Few people have the technology to read them anymore.
If you have numerous computers or several large electronic devices you want to recycle, a local company called Turtle Wings (www.turtlewings.com) will not only come to your home or office to pick up the items, it will also take care of data destruction. Best Buy will also recycle many electronic devices at in-store kiosks.
If you have electronic gadgets that still work and are not completely obsolete, a local school or nonprofit organization might be interested in them. Televisions, printers, computer monitors and keyboards can often be repurposed. If you need help locating a nonprofit in your area that will accept old electronics, the National Cristina Foundation (www.cristina.org) promotes technology reuse and makes it very easy to do. The group has a “locator” on its Web site that enables donors to select a charity or school in their area to receive their equipment.
If you’re interested in selling your old gadgets, an online company called Gazelle is gaining popularity. You simply locate your device on the site, www.gazelle.com, ship the items to the company for free (as long as the value given on the site exceeds $1), and Gazelle will send you a check or an Amazon gift card, or reimburse you via PayPal.
Items such as batteries and ink or toner cartridges also can be confusing. Batteries can be taken to your local dump or recycled using Turtle Wings. Ink and toner cartridges can often be mailed back to the manufacturer using prepaid shipping materials. Alternatively, stores such as Staples and Office Depot will take your toner and ink cartridges for recycling and mail you a coupon for their store. Best Buy will also accept cartridges for recycling.
And what about all of those cords, adapters and chargers you’ve accumulated over the years? People are always nervous about getting rid of a mystery cord and then realizing later that they need it, but that very rarely happens, I promise. Take 30 minutes to locate what you need for your current electronic devices and recycle the rest at your local dump.
Technology is moving fast. Old gadgets can pile up quickly. But they’re not doing any good in a drawer at your house. Recycling, donating or selling your old devices can give them new life and give you a sense of satisfaction knowing you’ve done something to help. Plus, you could even earn a little bit of cash to buy the next new thing.
Anzia is a freelance writer and owner of Neatnik. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.