Last week, I was talking about the environmental cost of electronics, and since then I’ve had lots of questions about how to properly dispose of things you don’t use any more.
Well – there are three steps to this.
First you need to sort through any old equipment you’ve got knocking around the house – old cables, broken laptops, phones you don’t use any more. Sort through it all and sort it into things to keep, things to pass on to someone else and things to recycle (I’ll help you with that in a moment).
Then, you need to make sure the equipment you’re getting rid of doesn’t have any of your personal information stored on it. Things like phones, tablets and old laptops almost certainly will. Other equipment like smart TVs or TV sticks might have.
And finally, you need to figure out exactly where everything’s going…
Part One – keep, donate or recycle
If (like most of us) you’ve got a cardboard box in the spare room or a big drawer in the kitchen stuffed with old cables and bits and pieces you’re not sure what to do with – now is a great time to sort them out. Get everything in a big pile and look through everything in one go.
Anything that’s actually broken or damaged can go straight into your recycling pile. If you’re not sure whether a piece of equipment still works or not, plug it in and turn it on to check.
Other bits to go straight in the recycling are random cables and accessories that came with a phone or a camera or some other bit of equipment – those little gizmos that you’ve never used and that have just sat in the box since you bought it. Also any old charging cables that don’t fit your current gadgets.
Once you’ve done that, you should be left with bits of equipment that still work but you just don’t use any more. If you think you might still get some use out of something, don’t feel like you have to get rid of it – dust it off and give it another try! For the things you really don’t want any more, if they still work, you might well be able to donate them (or even sell them).
Part Two – donate the gadget, not your data
Once you’ve sorted everything out and know which bits you’re definitely getting rid of, the next step is to delete any personal information from them first. (Accessories like webcams, microphones and printers don’t store any data – so you don’t have to worry about those.)
How you do that depends on the type of gadget you’ve got:
- Phones: If there’s still a SIM card in the phone, take it out and either keep it somewhere safe (if you want to use it again) or cut it in half and throw it away. If it’s a smartphone, do a full factory reset as well – if you’re not sure how to do that, there are some instructions here (you don’t need the bit about setting it up again, though).
- Tablets: Again, these need a full factory reset before you pass them on or recycle them.
- Digital cameras/Video cameras: If you have any pictures stored directly in the memory of the camera, just go through and delete them through the camera’s menu. Also make sure you take out any memory cards before you pass it on.
- Smart TVs/Firesticks/Roku boxes, etc: If you’ve used subscription services like Amazon Prime Video, Now TV or Netflix on a smart TV or stick, it’s sensible to reset them before you get rid. Otherwise someone might be able to use your account without you knowing. Exactly how you do that will vary from one device to the next, but you should be able to find an “Erase” or “Reset” option in the settings.
- PCs and laptops: It’s a bit trickier to delete things properly from an old PC or laptop, and that’s because of the way the information is stored. Phones, tablets and that sort of thing use what’s called a “solid state drive” or SSD. With one of those, deleting means deleting. But most PCs and laptops have a magnetic hard disk or HDD instead. And it’s actually quite hard to properly delete information from them.
So you’ve got a few options. If you know the person you’re giving the old computer to, just trust them not to try anything nefarious! If not, you can get your screwdriver out and physically remove the hard disk (or ask a techy to do it for you) – then either smash up the disk with a lump hammer or stick in the attic somewhere. Or you can get a clever bit of software that can delete everything properly. (What it actually does is write gobbledygook all over your hard drive so no-one can see what was there before.) Disk Wipe is a good free option, but I strongly suggest you get a techy friend to help you if you want to do it that way!
Part Three – what then?
Once you’ve sorted everything out, it’s time to actually get rid of it:
Recycling: The best way to get rid of broken equipment and odd bits of cable is to take them to your local recycling centre – they go in the “small electricals” skip. Make sure you take any batteries out first, though (the recycling centre will take those too, just separately).
The big exception to this rule is broken tablets and smartphones. The best way to recycle those (complete with batteries) is to take them to your local phone shop – they have all sorts of rare and valuable materials in them that are best handled by a specialist.
Donating or selling: You can often find a new home for old but functional equipment. Many charity shops will take electrical equipment – places like the British Heart Foundation will even collect it from you if you’ve got several things to give them at once.
Another good option is local Facebook “buy and sell” Groups, where you can either sell or give away bits and pieces of equipment.
Or if you have a phone, tablet, computer or games console (like a PlayStation), you might want to try a website like Fonebank. They’ll buy your equipment off you – you post it to them and they pay you (or a chosen charity) a small amount for it. They then sell it on at a fair price to people in developing countries. There are lots of websites like this that will pay you for your old equipment, but I like Fonebank – they’ll take really old models (they don’t pay much for them, but I hate throwing away something that works!) and you can choose to have the money donated to Water Aid, Oxfam or The National Trust.
I hope that’s been helpful, and it’s given you a few tips on how to de-clutter and do your bit for the environment.
All the best