It might not be a frequent responsibility, but one of the most important things you can do to keep the environment safe is to dispose of your computers and electronics in a responsible manner. Many people just simply throw their old laptops and computer parts into a trash bin and never think about them again, except they need to know that many of the metals and materials contained in those components are hard to produce and dangerous to the environment.
Luckily, there are many different organizations and companies out there that would be happy to take care of your old computer components for you, as they feel that they have a moral obligation to do so (as well as a profit potential). You could very well have passed by methods and instructions on all of this while focusing on other green efforts. Don’t worry about the past, as there are always ways to learn how to make your planet a better place right now.
Here are some things that you should know when trying to dispose of your computer in the most eco-friendly way possible:
Know of the Dangers of E-Waste
Pound for pound, your computer is one of the worst things you can put in a landfill. Most computers are built using some heavy elements, such as lead and mercury, which are harmful to the environment. As of several years ago, e-waste in landfills was responsible for the majority of all toxic waste, despite being only a tiny fraction of the waste in those same landfills. It is potent and dangerous, and you need to know this so you can take action and inform others around you as to the threat.
Try to remember all of this whenever you are wondering whether it is worth all of the effort you are putting in. Also remember that most of the materials you dispose of safely are recycled, protecting the environment from the damage that would be caused from the extra excavation of those rare earth elements. Even if you have to wait and put the waste in the corner for a few weeks before driving to a proper disposal area, it is far better than putting it in a landfill.
Make Sure Your Data is Safe or Wiped
If your computer is fully functional or you can save your hard drive, you are going to want to try to get any and all data off of your hard drive onto your new computer so you can pick up where you left off. You may wish to do so online or using physical media, but transferring your documents and files is a vital step to transferring over to a new computer.
If your hard drive is irrecoverable or you wish to get rid of it anyway, you’re going to want to get out a hammer and smash your old hard drive to bits, preferably to the point where it really isn’t recognizable as a hard drive anymore. If you do this, you will be safe in knowing that no one will be able to steal your personal data off of a hard drive you are safely trying to dispose of.
This is also a good time to mention that when transferring your data or uploading it to a cloud service, you are going to want to protect it by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). In short, a VPN is a service that connects your device to an offsite secure server over an encrypted connection, keeping it safe and you anonymous. It will also keep your data private as you transfer it and keep you safe on any public networks. If you experience a data breach, you cannot help but be concerned over the resulting consequences rather than be concerned for the environment.
Reuse What You Can
If you are disposing of a desktop computer, it can really help the environment if you try to scavenge any parts off of it that would still be of use in your new system. If you have any high-quality components and are building your own computer, then you might be able to save quite a bit of money and use those components instead of buying new ones. RAM, hard drives, and peripherals can all be easily reused in a different computer. Other parts might be more difficult to install and might require some cleaning or maintenance, but if you have the skills, you can easily save $500 (and help out the environment) if the parts are good enough.
Even if you have a laptop, there are still parts to be saved. Your hard drive and RAM are easily removable, and you might have luck opening up the computer even more to try to get some interesting components for educational or experimental use. Any use is better than just disposing of a part, and you can always still recycle them when you are done.
Find a Place That Will Take Your Computer
The final and essential step to disposing of your computer safely and ecologically is to find a proper disposal site. Luckily, there are quite a few available today. Most electronics stores will have a program where you can turn old computers in either free of charge or when you buy a new computer from them. You can usually find a listing of safe disposal areas on government websites, and there will almost certainly be one that is close to you.
Just make sure that it is reputable. Some places might not have the environment in mind and will just want to charge you to take your electronics and either make an additional profit by irresponsibly scraping them, trying to clean data off of them, or simply throwing them away and pocketing the “disposal fee.” A quick online search can usually tell you if something is safe, and most major names in electronics won’t try anything like that for a fear of a lost reputation. Safe e-waste disposal is a standard practice now, so you should truly have no difficulties.
There is a lot of responsibility we have in using our new technology. It is dangerous, but if we focus and use it to create more efficient processes and ways to help the planet overall, then the environmental costs of our computer addiction will be well worth it. I hope that you will remember this information when it comes time to replace your computer and that you will find no difficulty when it comes to recycling it.
Bio: Caroline Black is a writer who likes to focus on both environmental issues and technology. She is writing on behalf of Secure Thoughts, one of the best resources online when it comes to keeping your technology safe. She hopes that you find her knowledge useful and that you take great care in how you treat your technology.