Recycle Your Old Computer


Recycle Your Old Computer: a reader asks…

Hi Chris, can you tell me how to recycle my old computer? I want to be ‘green’ but I also don’t want to let go of any of my personal files on my old computer. So I guess I’m asking two questions: how do I destroy all my personal files from my old computer, and where can I take it for recycling?

I previously wrote about this subject in this article which focuses on seven ways you can wipe the personal data off your computer before you donate or recycle it. If you want the simplest method, just remove the hard drive from the computer (stick it in a drawer somewhere) and then you can send the computer off for recycling without having to worry about your personal data. You can then deal with the hard drive at your leisure, or just forget about it for years as it won’t take up much space.

laptop-underside-with-hard-drive-cover-removedHard drives can usually be removed from both desktops and laptops with nothing more than a Phillips-head screwdriver. For desktops, you unscrew the side, locate the hard drive and remove any retaining screws, unplug the power/data cable(s) and pull out the hard drive. For laptops, remove a couple of screws from the underside to pop off a cover, and the hard drive should just slide horizontally away from the data/power jacks. Sometimes you’ll have to remove a few more screws that lock the hard drive into place.

If you’d rather not keep that hard drive around and want to keep hackers from getting to your personal files, then you can either send the drive off to a company that specializes in destroying the hard drive (such as like Shred Ace or SER), or destroy it yourself. A good couple of whacks with a hammer should crack the case and a few more should damage the inner components enough to make it enormously difficult (and expensive) to recover the data on it – this will deter almost anyone from trying. Once that’s done, you can dispose of the hard drive (or pieces) along with any other electronic recycling methods that are available in your area.

I would suggest you first put the hard drive into a ziplock bag (or two), and then take it out onto your driveway or a concrete surface. Use the heaviest hammer you have and hit it till the case is cracked in one or more places, then hit it again a half-dozen times or so. The ziplock bag will help to keep metal pieces from flying around and hitting someone. You might slightly crack or damage the driveway or concrete surface, so use a place where that doesn’t matter.


Here are some recycling centers in the Washington DC metro area where you can take consumer electronics for recycling:

If you live in another area, just do a web search for “[your city or county name ] computer recycling”. If you live near a Best Buy store, they provide free drop-off for your old computer, as does Goodwill (but check with your local Goodwill store first). There are plenty of other options, but you’ll often see a fee for certain items.


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