Here’s how to PROPERLY dispose of old technology

We’re replacing technology faster and faster, which leaves us with a big, heaping pile of outdated, never used tech.

Unfortunately, tossing this “old” technology in the dumpster out back isn’t the best option. Not only does this pose a significant threat to the environment, but it exposes yourself and your business to huge security risks.

To help you minimize the risks to your data and the potential damage it can have on the environment, here’s what you should know about how to dispose of old tech.

Dealing with stored data

Devices containing sensitive data require special handling. This includes computers, phones, servers, or other devices that contain logins, database entries, or other information not for the public.

To err on the side of safety, you’ll need to secure your data before you do anything with the physical components.

However, wiping data can be a bit of a challenge. To effectively remove anything that could come back to haunt you, you’ll want to follow a few simple steps.

  1. Factory reset your devices. A factory reset overwrites all of the existing data so it is not immediately accessible to the next user. However, since a data reconstruction specialist can often get to the information wiped by the reset, this method is best deployed on devices with limited access to data.
  2. Pull your hard drives. For the most sensitive data, like the information stored on older servers, physically pulling out the hard drives is a good idea. The remaining components can be easily refurbished, but your data stays under your control.
  3. Destroy older drives. Storing older hard drives that are not in use is one way to protect the data on the drives, but destroying them is often quicker and easier. After pulling the drives, a quick visit with a drill or hammer can render all of the information completely destroyed. You can also find an e-waste recycler. Here’s what Entrepreneur says to look for:

The electronic waste business has matured rapidly over the past several years with standards and certifications such as R2, e-Stewards, and the Device Renewal Forum emerging. Look for companies that are certified in some or all of these standards, because they stick to best practices when handling personal data. 

Tech disposal for devices without sensitive data

When data isn’t a concern, you have several options for clearing out that old tech. Some options can even help promote the use of technology in underprivileged communities. Here are a few options for disposing of technology that don’t involve the dumpster out back.

  1. Recycle. Everything from televisions and cameras to old printers and even used up ink cartridges contain plenty of plastic, metal, and other components. All of these components can be recycled and reused in other applications. Instead of leaving technology to fill up landfills, make sure it goes to a recycling center for proper disposal.
  2. Donate. Upgrading your existing technology doesn’t mean the older tech in the office isn’t functional. Sometimes, you simply need faster or better systems. When this happens, you might have fully functional tech that would be more than welcome at a nearby school or home. Contact local charities to arrange for the donation of outdated tech items.
  3. Upgrade. For some technology, an upgrade is just as good as a replacement. Computers are particularly adaptable, and you can always add new hard drives, more ram, an upgraded graphics card, or other physical components that will turn an obsolete machine into a modern workhorse.
  4. Upcycle. Older technology often contains plenty of usable parts that can be pulled for use in other machinery. Instead of condemning the entire stack to a recycling center, consider contacting companies that refurb old technology for modern use. There are even upcycle schemes that turn tech into art or household products.
  5. Sell. If you have the relationships in place or already handle retail sales, it might be possible to turn your older technology into a secondary revenue stream. Resetting phones and selling them to new users is one way to help defray the cost of upgrading your devices. The same is true for display technology, sound systems, and even intercoms or business telephones. There is a growing market for older tech that hasn’t yet hit the obsolete line.

“The U.S. generated 2.4 million tons of e-waste in 2010, and GBI Research expects global e-waste recovery to be a $21 billion industry by 2020.” — Entrepreneur

Environmental issues with old tech

Tossing your old tech in the trash might seem like a quick and easy way to clear out your closets, but trash is already a growing issue, and the tech sector is gobbling up resources at a rapidly expanding rate.

Because of this, it’s important to take a little extra time to ensure that devices go to environmentally friendly disposal centers. As an example, there is a phone recycling company operating in the UK that puts every piece back into circulation and even uses a waste-to-energy incineration process to generate power.

On another note, technology can also contain a number of toxic substances in addition to the plastic which surrounds the exterior. Lead, mercury, cadmium, and other chemicals can leach into the groundwater, poisoning the aquifer for miles around. As a result, some states have already passed laws about proper technology disposal.

Final thoughts

Before you default to the dumpster, remember that proper disposal means recycling, donating, reusing, or reselling. If the benefits of these programs don’t sell you on the idea, remember that the cost of a fine can instantly make proper disposal the most affordable way to clear your technology stack.

Want to keep reading? Take a look at our article that discusses what happens to data after you die.