How do I safely dispose of my old computer
So you’ve finally taken the plunge and upgraded that old business computer for a new model sporting a fast processor, lots of RAM, and the latest operating system. Once the new computer is installed and running, it’s easy to think of the old computer as a piece of junk that just needs to be disposed of. However, that old computer most likely contains a lot of vital information about your business and your customers, clients or patients. Therefore, it is extremely important that you put some thought into how you are going to remove that information before actually disposing of the computer.
Your files are stored on a hard drive, which is small metal box that contains a round platter made of either an aluminum alloy or glass/ceramic composite. This platter is coated with a special magnetic coating enabling it to store data magnetically. When you save a file to your hard drive, a small head hovering over the platter “writes” the information to the hard drive. It would be normal to assume that when you delete a file, it is immediately erased from the hard drive. But, that is not typically the case. In most cases, your hard drive retains the information, but tells the computer it can write over that portion of the disk whenever it needs to. Until your hard drive becomes full of files you actually want to keep, the old deleted files are still intact on the hard drive waiting to be overwritten. So, even if you delete all of your files before disposing of your computer, there is a high probability that the files are still on the disk and able to be retrieved.
There are two methods that can be used to permanently remove these files from your hard drive before disposing of your computer. Which method you utilize depends on how sensitive the information recorded on the disk is. The first method is to physically destroy the hard drive. Although it sounds a bit barbaric, the best method is to remove the hard drive from the computer and either smash it with a hammer or drill holes through it. This destroys the platter and the head in the drive, rendering it completely useless and the data unrecoverable. If your old hard drive contains information that has state or federal privacy or protection status, this is probably the best method for insuring compliance. However, it is recommended that a business storing this type of data consult the appropriate legal standards to see if there are recommended guidelines or methods for disposal of computers/hard drives.
The second method for removing files from old hard drives involves using a program to permanently delete the files. These types of programs can be found using an internet search engine and searching for terms such as “data shredder,” or “permanent file deletion.” It is important to fully understand the program and what it does to determine if this method is satisfactory for deleting the types of files on your hard drive.
Once you have permanently deleted your files from your old computer, there are three different ways to dispose of an old computer: 1.) donate it, 2.) recycle it, and 3.) throw it in the trash. In today’s more environmentally conscious atmosphere, it is recommended that the third alternative not even be considered as an option. Simply throwing a computer away takes up valuable landfill space and eliminates the opportunity to recycle the materials into other useful products.
A much better option is to donate the computer to another party, whether a school, non-profit group, or individual. Although your computer may be outdated, it could still be very valuable to an agency or person who does not have a computer but could use one. Even if you chose to remove and physically destroy your hard drive, the computer can still be donated, and then a new hard drive and operating system installed. In addition, it is possible that the donation could be tax deductible. A link to the IRS tax-deductible guidelines is provided below.
If you would rather have the computer destroyed, the next best method is to recycle the computer. Old computers contain many plastics and metals that can be recycled to be used in the manufacture of new products. Some cities provide recycling services for electronics. A call to your city’s sanitation or recycling department should provide information regarding local programs. There are also companies that specialize in the destruction and recycling of old computers and related hardware. If you have a large number of items to recycle, some of these companies will dispatch a truck to come to your facility to pick the items up. These companies can be found in the Yellow Pages or by doing an internet search. If you would rather have the computer recycling company physically destroy your hard drives, it is recommended that you specifically ask if they perform this task, how they do it, and what assurances/guarantees they provide insuring that the information is permanently destroyed and unrecoverable. If the company seems hesitant to provide this information, look for another company to perform the work.
The following links are from reputable sources and provide additional information on this topic. However, EnergyNet does not guarantee the information nor the suggested actions described in the articles.