Getting Rid of Old Electronic Devices

Recycling outdated electronics securelyIf you recently purchased a new phone, laptop, desktop, or tablet, how can you dispose of your old one? Batteries and other components cannot be thrown into the trash because they’re harmful to the environment. Consider selling, donating, gifting, or returning the device to the manufacturer for credit. You can also check for businesses in your area that recycle or dispose of electronic devices.

No matter how you intend to discard of your device, make sure your personal files don’t go with it. Procedures for removing personal information are very device dependent, but some general guidelines can help protect your identity and memories.  

Windows Devices

Back up Files and Preparing Software

Run a complete anti-virus and malware scan before backing up to avoid contaminating your new device.

Back up your important files such as documents, emails, email addresses, photos, calendars, contacts, and other project files to storage devices such as a thumb drive, removable hard drive, or the cloud. If using an external storage device, label and store it in a locked drawer or cabinet when not being used.

Some software such as Quicken, provide their own file backup and restore functionality. To find out what other applications have these services, open each one and search ‘backup’ or ‘restore’ in help support.

Computer experts advise using more than one backup of important files even if the files are stored in the cloud.  

For any software you intend to transfer to your new device, you will need to locate the installation media and licenses. Use a search engine to see if the software needs to be unregistered on the old device before it can be installed on another machine. If the software is not compatible with your new device, it may be cheaper to upgrade than purchase the software outright.

Some software licenses can be installed on more than one machine. However, it is best to uninstall or unregister any software if the device will not remain in your household.

Microsoft no longer provides Easy Transfer to copy your files and settings. One option is to purchase third party software to move your applications, favorites, and other settings. You will otherwise have to copy files and settings manually and reinstall your applications individually.

Remove Personal Information from Your Device

Oftentimes, deleting files from your device is not enough. Files are not really deleted until they are written over. Security software like DBAN and Erasure writes and rewrites over a drive multiple times. If you are donating or selling the device, reinstall the Windows operating system to reformat the hard drive. Some machines have a hidden recovery disk that allows you to return it to its factory state. Visit the manufacturer’s website for instructions.

If you don’t intend to sell, gift, or donate the device, you can remove all the drives before turning it in to a disposal company. You can reuse the drives by purchasing an appropriate adapter or installing in another device. 

Alternatively, it can be quite cathartic to destroy the drive. Smashing them or taking them apart and destroying the components. Wear safety glasses and be careful of sharp edges.

Apple Devices 

Back up Files and Preparing Software

Backing up, transferring, and clearing Mac devices is much simpler than Windows. The Apple support site provides complete instructions. Below is a basic checklist to prepare your device for resale or to return it to Apple for credit:
Backup your Mac
Sign out of iCloud
De-authorize your Mac with iTunes
Sign out of your iMessages account
Erase your Mac’s drive
Install MacOS

Apple also provides a Migration Assistant to move your files from your old computer to your new one. 


Since phones are replaced frequently, almost all phone companies and vendors have methods for backing up and clearing them. If you plan to sell or give away the device, check with your phone’s provider to determine if you need to release the device if the new owner will be using a different provider.

Follow vendor’s advice on backing up your phone and restoring it to the new device and clearing the old phone. Note that passwords will most likely not transfer over.

It is important to recycle or dispose of your electronic devices properly to prevent accidental release of private information. Don’t get rid of your device before making sure you have everything you need copied to your new device or a backup system. And remember it’s also important to clear the device of information you don’t want the new owner to access.




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