October 25th, 2021
How to recycle your computer
There are few things more exciting in the tech world than unboxing a new computer. That feeling of peeling away the screen's protective film can't be beaten, but what are you supposed to do with your old one? Many computers become obsolete after just a few years, and the last thing you want is a pile of unused computers cluttering up the garage.
There are several responsible ways to get rid of an old computer. We'll break them down so you can make the decision that's right for you.
Can I just throw my old computer away?
It may seem easier to toss it in the bin with last week's leftovers, but computers and other electronic waste, or e-waste, can do serious damage to the environment when thrown in landfills.
Electronics, like computers and smartphones, are made of metals—such as cadmium, lead, and mercury—that if left in a landfill can seep into the earth and contaminate the groundwater. These contaminants then infect local plants and ecosystems, causing long-lasting damage to our communities. In addition to these harmful metals, electronics also contain small amounts of precious metals like gold, copper, and platinum. These resources are valuable and can be recovered from recycled electronics using special procedures.
Learning how to recycle a computer is the only way to ensure that the harmful components are properly disposed of and the reusable components are saved.
Should I donate my old computer?
Donating your computer is a great way to get rid of an old device while doing some good for your community. If you would like to donate a computer, talk to your local donation center or library to see if there are any specifications for electronics donations. Many times, programs won't accept computers that are older or in need of repair because they aren't particularly useful for someone in need.
Is there a trade-in program for old computers?
Another alternative is to return your old device to the manufacturer that made it. Apple® and Samsung® are just a few of the companies that have trade-in programs where you can get credit towards the purchase of a new device. This is a great way to get rid of an old device while saving some money in the process, but these companies are very particular about the devices they will accept for trade-in. It can't be too old and you will often get a much lower quote if the device is damaged.
Prepare your computer for recycling
If you decide that you'd like to recycle your old computer, you'll need to do some prep work first. Think about all the personal data you have on your computer: years of documents, photos, saved passwords, contact information, and bank account information. Before recycling a computer, selling, or passing down your devices, it's important to remove this personal data so that it doesn't accidentally fall into the wrong hands. Luckily, this isn't a difficult task, but it needs to be done safely and effectively to ensure all the data is wiped.
How to wipe personal information from your computer
1. Back up personal files
The first step to safely wiping all personal information from a computer is to create a backup that will keep all those important photos and documents safe. You can back up your device using an external hard drive or by uploading things to a cloud storage system. Check out our guide to the best cloud storage options for your computer.
2. Drive encryption
Drive or disk encryption is a powerful tool used to protect important data that is kept on computer hard drives. It allows a user to lock their data with a passcode so that if anyone were to find the hard drive, they would not be able to access it. Drive encryption might be useful for those who are nervous about recycling a work computer used for classified information.
3. Deauthorize your computer from connected software
Connected ecosystems and password managers make our lives so much easier by syncing all our devices and saving us time. But when it's time to part with a device, it's important to remove and sign out of these programs and apps so that someone else doesn't have access to your information. If you're using a Mac®, you can find some of these accounts under Settings > Internet Accounts; but for online sites or if you're on a PC, you'll have to sign out or deauthorize your computer manually.
4. Delete browsing history
Deleting your Internet browsing history is an important step in the wiping process. Many of our most-visited websites have saved information about our preferences and you'll want to prevent any traces of personal information from staying on the device. To delete your browsing history, go to your browser's settings and select History. From there, select the option to Clear browsing data. Depending on which browser you're using, you should be given options to clear browsing history, cookies, and cached data—we recommend selecting all three to clear your browser entirely.
5. Uninstall programs
The last step before wiping the device permanently is to uninstall your personal programs from the device. This will ensure that any related files or information in these programs will be wiped from the device. You'll want to uninstall programs individually using the applications list in Windows or by managing your storage on a Mac.
6. Wipe your hard drive
Last comes the actual wiping of the hard drive, also called performing a factory reset. Each computer will have a different process for completing this step, but these guides for how to wipe a MacBook® and how to factory reset a PC will be great places to find step-by-step instructions. It's very important to remember to back up your personal data BEFORE completing this step, as there will be nothing remaining on the device after you wipe it. Once the reset is completed, you can begin the process of recycling old computers.
Locate a computer recycling center
After you've wiped your old computer of any personal data or information, the next step is finding a recycling center. Your options will vary based on your location, but here are some great resources to begin when learning how to recycle a computer:
How to find a computer recycling program near you
Online resources like Earth911 are great starting points when looking for old computer disposal options in your area.
Your local uBreakiFix® by Asurion or Asurion Tech Repair & Solutions™ store is also a great place to drop off old computers and other electronics to be recycled. We partner with a Samsung-authorized recycling partner to ensure that all devices are properly refurbished or processed.
Many electronics stores like Staples and Best Buy will recycle old computers for you, but you should call your local location to ensure that they are currently accepting drop-offs. It is also a good idea to check with the recycling program about the computer's battery. Some programs require the removal of the battery prior to drop-off; otherwise, they will not accept it.
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