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Here’s what to do before you recycle or donate your devices – Check out Geek

Used electronics for recycling
Damrong Rattanapong / Shutterstock.com

If you̵

7;ve recently upgraded to a new phone, laptop, tablet, or something similar, you probably want to do something proactive with the old one. Don’t just throw it in the trash – give it to a friend or family member, donate it, or recycle it. But there are a couple of things that you should do first.

Your main concern is your privacy: you want to erase all of your personal data from one device before it gets to another user. There are pretty common ways of doing this (a full reset) and more drastic measures if you are concerned that someone is purposefully looking for used equipment for nefarious reasons.

There are also some safety concerns with older devices, especially the battery. However, this is usually done by the recycler. Assuming your gadget is working, once you’ve got rid of your data and all of its redundant bits, it’s time to move to a new home.

First step: back up and delete your data

No matter what you give away – a phone, tablet, laptop, game console, pretty much any type of modern electronics – you want to make sure that your personal information is deleted first. Not only is this a privacy issue, it’s a security issue: even with seemingly innocuous data like your name and phone number, an identity thief can start a targeted harvest.

Windows settings reset dialog box

Fortunately, pretty much all of these devices provide the option to reset your computer and remove all of your personal data, as well as stored files and programs. This takes a few minutes, but is fairly reliable and very simple.

First, back up all your important data – it’s easy on a phone or tablet, as most of the data is already synced with your Apple, Google or Amazon account. You should make sure that photos, videos, music, and text messages are saved. Computers can be more complicated because you want to retrieve a large amount of data – possibly all of it – from the storage drive.

Our sister site How-To Geek offers simple backup instructions for this process on all popular platforms:

With all of your data safely backed up, it’s time to reset your device. Here are the relevant guides:

If you want a more secure method of permanently erasing files and personal information, it is best to overwrite your device’s storage to make sure it cannot be recovered using various advanced tools. There are several ways to do this, but the main platforms to consider here are Windows and macOS.

Step two: harvest (or destroy) parts

When you’re ready to get rid of your device, you’ll also need to remove any physical parts that come out as well. For phones, this means SIM cards and MicroSD cards (if your phone supports them). On laptops and desktops, this means CDs, DVDs, camera cards, and of course everything that’s plugged into your USB ports. On game consoles, look for game discs, game cartridges, and memory cards.

Computers have an even safer option: you can remove the storage drive. This is more complicated and also removes the operating system. So you have to be aware that if you sell or donate it, it will not work. However, if you remove the hard drive or SSD and either destroy it yourself or simply dispose of it separately, the chances of someone recovering data from it are greatly reduced.

A hard drive removed from a PC
Michael Crider

Getting the storage drive out of a desktop computer is generally straightforward (although it can be difficult on small computers like the Mac Mini or iMac). Getting it out of a laptop is much more difficult and may not be possible using standard tools if it’s a newer ultra-thin model with memory soldered to the motherboard. Either way, do a Google search to see if you can handle it.

You might also be able to use other removable parts in a computer, especially video cards from gaming desktops. But when you’re ready to sell or recycle a computer, there probably isn’t much in it that could be useful for a new one. Whenever you transfer the computer to a new user – either donating it or giving it to a friend – make sure that you are giving it to them in a useful condition.

So if you donate a computer somewhere, unless you know the organization can repair computers on their own, leave the storage and operating system there after disabling your data. If you give a computer to someone who is less tech-savvy, you probably want to keep it working too. If someone is just looking for the parts, or has the parts and the know-how to fix them, feel free to harvest those parts.

to clean up

Whenever you give or donate something to a new user, you should politely ensure that it is in the best possible condition. You did that in relation to software, now it is time to take care of the hardware.

Woman cleaning cell phone
Progressman / Shutterstock.com

Dusting your device and maybe cleaning some of the mass off its nooks and crannies with a little isopropyl alcohol couldn’t hurt. If your device is particularly dirty or dirty, you should refinish it with a toothbrush (of course, make sure that no water gets into vulnerable openings). Keyboards and mice can be particularly happy because they are constantly touched: full cleaning and disinfection is a more laborious process.

Where to donate and recycle

Ready to get rid of a few things? There are many places to donate items, and many electronics stores like Best Buy collect electronics for recycling for free. Your local municipal waste service or recycling service may also offer free electronics recycling. They make a small amount of money by giving e-waste to industrial recycling companies.

When your gadget is fully functional, you can donate it to organizations that can distribute electronics to those who need them. There are tons of these, at least one of which is almost certainly around you: schools, churches, and other religious organizations or programs for the homeless and the needy. Even senior centers and retirement homes often need all kinds of electronics – especially tablets and laptops.

If you are not sure if the place you are going will accept your item, just call and ask – someone will tell you if they can use it and if not they will likely point you where to go You should go instead. If all else fails, organizations like the Red Cross, Goodwill, and the Salvation Army will usually take almost anything that has worked and made in the past decade.

Those who prefer to donate to non-religious organizations may have some very limited options. You should look for charities that are looking for donations in the next big city. The urgent need for donations is often covered in the local newspaper or shared on social centers like Facebook and Nextdoor.

And remember, you can always ask your friends or family if they want or need the things that you can no longer use. Even if you don’t, you may know someone who does.

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