The right (and safe) way to dispose of computers, electronics

Guest Commentary

Posted 3/27/24

On Earth Day – April 22 – many Southwest Floridians will do their part to protect....

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The right (and safe) way to dispose of computers, electronics

Guest Commentary


On Earth Day – April 22 – many Southwest Floridians will do their part to protect the environment. Whether it’s planting trees, cleaning debris from waterways or picking up roadside trash, we all share a responsibility to enhance our habitat.

Recycling is now second nature. We know to throw our soda cans, plastic bottles and newspapers into the recycling bin. Tossing them into the trash would feel odd – kind of like driving without a seatbelt or leaving the house without your cell phone.

But what about our electronics? The average person keeps a cell phone two to three years and a laptop four to five years. TVs last a bit longer, but the lifespan for electronics is fairly short compared to other household items and business assets. New technology tends to be far superior in capabilities, speed, clarity and security.

Electronics are made primarily of plastic and metal, much of which can be recycled. However, obsolete devices like computers, cell phones, tablets and smart TVs may contain usernames, passwords, credit card and bank account numbers, social security numbers, addresses, confidential files or documents, emails, photos and videos. We spend big bucks on antivirus programs, firewalls, VPNs and other technology to protect our data. Tossing your electronics into a trash can and hoping they make it to the recycling center for secure disposal puts you at risk. Cybercriminals don’t just exist online; they can drive through streets on trash day – just like scrap metal haulers – looking for devices that may contain valuable data and information.

When preparing to recycle electronics that store personal information or customer data, follow these steps to enhance digital security:
• Back up data. Transferring documents, photos and videos to a hard drive or cloud storage ensures you’ll still have access after upgrading a device.

• Log out from all apps and programs. Signing out ensures programs won’t automatically restart if the device is powered on.
• Delete files, apps and programs. Remember to check download folders and empty the trash bin.
• Perform a factory reset. This restores a device to its original factory settings.
• Reboot the device. This provides a final opportunity to ensure the device is clear.
• Consult an IT safety specialist. Even if you are a skilled DIY techie and think a device is wiped clean, cybercriminals can still find ways to restore programs and recover data. Only an experienced IT professional can guarantee a device is truly ready for recycling.

Only at that point should you consider how, and where, to recycle your electronics. Lee County Solid Waste, for example, advises residents to place computer hard drives and monitors, tablets, printers, copiers, scanners, TVs and other electronics with regular trash on pickup day or bring them to the Topaz Court Solid Waste Facility. The agency notes: “We encourage everyone to erase all personal data from their devices before recycling them. Once the device is received at our Topaz facility, we strive to ensure data security in the recycling process. Lee County contracts with industry approved electronics recyclers who erase or destroy hard drives and memory-containing devices and break down each item to recover reusable or recyclable components.”

Waste management departments in other Southwest Florida counties offer similar guidance. Some private recycling centers also offer tips for safely recycling electronics. Check with your local recycler for specifics.

The World Health Organization noted in October that “e-waste” – electronics that are obsolete, broken or unusable – is the fastest-growing solid waste stream in the world, increasing at a rate three times faster than the world’s population. Estimates showed only 17.4% of e-waste was documented as formally collected and recycled.

With Earth Day upon us, it’s important to make sure we are recycling as much as possible. When it comes to electronics, making sure that we protect our data is just as important as protecting our environment.

About the Author
John Joyce is an owner of CRS Technology Consultants, a Cape Coral-based IT company founded in 1988. For more information, please visit or call 239-542-8450.

Earth Day, recycle, recycling, conservation, water, conserve, protect, environment