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Tips for Disposing of That Old Computer, Phone or Tablet

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It’s the holiday season, and one of the best gift-giving ideas is new technology. Who doesn’t want the latest phone or the sharpest tablet or even the fastest computer? These are exactly the sorts of presents that many people ask for, or better yet, choose to buy for themselves.

But what can you do with that old device that still works but is no longer your favorite (just like Woody from “Toy Story”). Most families in Central Maryland could conduct a “technology scavenger hunt” and fill the dining room table with a variety of mobile phones, tablets, chargers and computers that were found in drawers and elsewhere. Most businesses have that “tech room” where they stack unused computers, monitors, printers and cables.

What is the right thing to do with all this tech stuff? Why, of course, these items should be repurposed or recycled. But it is very important to first remove all personal and business data from these devices.

Repurposing

Repurposing is appropriate when the device is still usable to someone or some organization. There are online forums to sell your phones and tablets at a fair market price, and there are local organizations that will take your devices as donations and refurbish them for charitable organizations and educational institutions. For example, the Lazarus Foundation, in Glenwood, accepts donations of computer equipment.

Some families and businesses use the pass-down approach. When new devices come in, the current working devices are given to other family members or other employees. Often, the user will decide to keep both the new and the current devices active and use both. One innovative person decided to keep a replaced mobile phone on the home wireless and use it only for playing iTunes music on Bluetooth speakers.

Recycling

The focus on recycling of items is constantly growing in Central Maryland and around the world. Our local governments make it very easy to recycle household items by having curbside pickup. However, to recycle electronics, it takes more effort and a plan of action.

In Howard County, eCycle is done at the Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville on Monday–Saturday, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Residents can just show up with their devices. Businesses can apply for a free yearly eCycling permit.

In Anne Arundel County, residents can drop off electronics for free at any of the three county recycling centers. Anne Arundel businesses must bring electronics to the Millersville Landfill and are subject to a fee.

Another easy option for businesses is to hire a professional electronics recycling company to come pick up their unneeded technology. A Better Way Computer Recycling, in Jessup, provides this service for local businesses. It will provide requested documentation such as serialized hard drive shred reports or asset documentation.

Also, some local stores, such as Best Buy, offer electronics recycling for most home electronics and large appliances.

Removing Data

When most items are repurposed or recycled, there is very little prep needed. Most people just take the item to the charity or landfill and drive away feeling better.

Computers, mobile phones and tablets are different because they contain personal and business information. Smart people with bad intent (think hackers and identity thieves) can profit by having access to others’ private information.

It is imperative that all data is removed from any electronic device that is going to be disposed of.

For computers, the hard drives inside need to be removed prior to repurposing or recycling. Some people choose to erase the hard drive. But simple reformatting (erasing) doesn’t overwrite the actual data. It just destroys the map to where the data is located on the drive. It is recommended to use a “disk cleaning” tool like WipeDrive, instead. For business equipment, hard drives are usually removed and shredded.

For mobile phones and tablets, this data deletion process can be more complicated. There are no removable hard drives in these devices. Data is stored in flash memory internal storage (think of a built-in thumb drive). Each manufacturer has a process to “wipe” a device properly, so reach out to them and follow their exact instructions. Also, if it has a SIM card, remove and destroy that as well.

If you want to be absolutely certain that no one will ever get your device’s data, it is recommended to physically destroy the phone or tablet. After the battery and/or SIM card have been removed, place it in a sealed plastic bag, choose your biggest hammer, and have fun. These devices can also be shredded by a professional, if that is more your style.

Tom Burtzlaff is president of CMIT Solutions of Columbia. He can be reached at 443-542-5553 or tburtzlaff@cmitsolutions.com.