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How to recycle your computer

By Luke Thompson
Wednesday, August 13th 2014

Home computers and laptops need to be carefully recycled. This is due to the harmful materials in their components that can damage both people and the environment. So how do you do it? You’ll be happy to hear that it’s easier than you might expect, and could even make you some extra money.

There are several options, from donating to charity to disposing through a dedicated e-waste disposal scheme. Whichever method you use will benefit the environment. Here is everything you need to know about recycling your old laptops and computers.

Delete personal data first

Home computers are personal devices. We use them for fun and leisure as much as for work and online shopping. As a result they’re full of personal information that needs to remain private. This includes credit and debit card details, home addresses, websites that you’ve visited, and personal photographs.

Back-up your files

Back-up your personal files and important information before you recycle your computer. Be thorough: check every file and folder. This will ensure that you don’t miss anything important. Remember, once you’ve recycled, everything that was on your computer is permanently lost.

Formatting your hard drive won’t delete everything

Your data is stored on your computer’s hard drive. A common way to delete information is to reformat your hard drive: but this won’t delete everything. Practised hackers can restore information located on the drive prior to reformatting, even if your hard drive looks brand new with a fresh install of the operating system.

Use data deletion software

To get around this issue you can use specialist data deletion software. This permanently deletes information on your hard drive. Generally, this software works by writing random characters to the drive multiple times. Think of it in terms of footprints in the sand. A single footprint is clear and crisp, but when a hundred people walk over the same spot, a single footprint is impossible to distinguish.

Or just remove and keep your old hard drive

The above method works 99% of the time. Often, this is enough to keep your data secure. But if you’re still concerned it may be better to simply remove your hard drive entirely and keep it safe.

Donate your old computer to charity

Charitable organisations are always looking for donations of computers, laptops, and other electrical devices. They will often sell them on to raise money, or refurbish them for the less fortunate.

Review technical requirements

Charities won’t accept just any computer. Many non-profit organisations that refurbish computers request a certain technical specification. For example, the charity Computer Aid only accepts home computers with a processor of at least 2.4GHz. They also request that all computers come with the necessary cables. A similar charity, Computers for Charities, only accepts fully working computers aged five years or less. Be sure to check such prerequisites before donating.

Arrange pick-up or drop-off

Most charities ask you to drop off your donations. In this case it may be worth looking for local charities for ease of delivery. Home collection is sometimes provided – often for a fixed fee. Check your chosen charity’s website for specific information.

Recycle your computer for cash

Old computers may appear worthless, but they can sometimes be recycled for profit. Computer disposal companies often pay for old systems. This is often a quick and easy solution, but you can make more money by taking a different route.

Use an online auction service

Online auctions services, such as eBay, are great locations to sell and recycle old computers. To maximise profit you can break down your system into its components. By selling components individually your overall gain will be higher. This requires more work on your part, however. Try to wait for ‘free listing’ days to avoid paying listing fees, and always include a photograph as this can improve your chances of selling by 15%, according to eBay analysts.

Sell your old computer in the classifieds

Your local paper can be ideal for selling old and unwanted computer equipment. People looking for bargains often scour the classifieds section. You can take advantage of this by writing a strong advert with the price clearly stated. Online classified sections of local papers are another option, as are websites such as Preloved, where you can advertise and sell secondhand goods for a small fee.

Dispose of your computer safely

If the above options aren’t viable, don’t just throw your old computer in the rubbish. You need to dispose of it safely. Computers and their components are full of dangerous materials and chemicals that can leak into the environment, causing significant pollution. Thanks to the WEEE waste directive, disposing of your old computer has never been easier.

The WEEE waste directive

WEEE stands for ‘Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive’ and refers to the safe disposal of electrical equipment, which applies to all countries in the European Union. Under the WEEE recycling directive, retailers of electronic goods must either relieve you of your old computer in store when you’re buying a new one, or tell you whereabouts in the local area you can recycle your old computer for free. Some retailers will also take away old electrical equipment when delivering new.

Harmful materials in your computer and laptop

The hazardous materials in your computer pose no threat when it is in use: only once the computer has been disposed of and has started to degrade. Some of the materials in your computer may include:

  • Lead – in batteries, circuit boards, motherboards
  • Cadmium – laptop batteries, CRT monitors
  • Beryllium – motherboards, laser printers
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) – cables, keyboards
  • Mercury – LCD monitors, batteries

Conclusion

More than one million tons of electronic waste is generated in the UK every year. All of this has a significant adverse affect on our environment and so recycling your old computers and laptops can make a big difference.

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