Four Things You Must Know to Responsibly Recycle Your Electronics

Published June 2013 by Darcie DeFoe

RECYCLING YOUR COMPUTER: KEEP YOUR PRIVATES PRIVATE!

Computers contain some of our most personal information whether it’s your home computer or a business computer. Have you ever thought about what happens to this information when you recycle or dispose of your computer? There are many recyclers for your unwanted computer equipment, but do you know what they do with it? When you are finished with a computer you should make sure your information is no longer accessible and that the hazardous materials in the equipment are properly handled. This is why it is especially important to responsibly recycle e-waste with a trusted, certified recycler. Let’s talk about how to do that.

DATA DESTRUCTION: WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH YOUR INFO?

When seeking an electronics recycler, data destruction should be a top priority. There are a couple options when it comes to erasing your information. Software programs are used to permanently delete everything stored on a hard drive. The best programs are government approved to ensure there is no trace of existing information. Hard drives can also be physically destroyed. They are either crushed or shredded until they are no longer operational, in fact at this stage they really just resemble tiny flakes of metal that you likely wouldn’t recognize as a hard drive. If your business requires it,  reputable recycling companies offer documentation of destruction. A very specific “Erasure and Asset Report” can be produced for every shipment if you have data that must be certified as destroyed per regulations like HIPPA, and includes time-stamped erasure verification, serial numbers, method of erasure and a detailed hardware/software discovery.

This type of detailed destruction isn’t necessary for every type of electronics recycling scenario, but it is available. The point is, if your recycler is reputable, they should be able to provide these services if you require them.

RECYCLING PROCESS: HOW DO YOU KNOW IF IT’S SAFE?

After your data is destroyed, any materials that can be salvaged are processed. Almost all of the raw materials found in computers can be recycled. They contain easily recycled materials like plastics, glass, aluminum, steel, and many others. While these examples are more easily recycled, most computers contain hazardous materials that must be treated carefully. Circuit boards and other components often contain contaminates and heavy metals such as lead and mercury. Keeping these toxic materials out of landfills and disposing of them properly is another advantage of recycling.

The sheer number of types of materials found in computers makes the recycling process complex. First, all computer components must be dismantled. Once they are broken down and all of the reusable materials are separated, they can be smelted. All of the separated materials are melted down to their raw state and are then sent to manufacturers to make new products.

PROPER DISPOSAL: SO YOUR HARD DRIVE DOESN’T END UP IN A DITCH!

When you want your old computer destroyed, it should be properly destroyed. There have been several instances where so-called Recyclers do not send your equipment where they say they will or to where you believe them to be going. Find a disposal facility that can provide a Certificate of Destruction to ensure your information is no longer accessible. There are many Recyclers that will provide this evidence. There are also some credentials that reputable recyclers will have. The EPA encourages all electronics recyclers to become certified by demonstrating to an accredited, independent third-party auditor that they meet specific standards to safely recycle and manage electronics. Currently two accredited certification standards exist: The Responsible Recycling Practices (R2) and the e-Stewards standards. We always encourage customers to choose certified electronics recyclers. If you do not know if yours is certified, ask! Most recyclers have an open door policy and will happily share all downstream material handlers.

It is up to you to do the research and protect your own information, but a qualified and reputable recycler will happily help you understand the benefits of their services.