The Right Way to Dispose of a Computer

Computers are like any other appliance when it comes to disposal, right? Well, not so much. Computers contain many components that can not only compromise your personal security, but can harm the environment and human health. Toxic chemicals in computers include lead, mercury, cadmium, and Brominated flame retardants (BFRs). Properly disposing of a computer is essential and sometimes required by law.

Safety First

First, always ensure that you’ve actually removed and then erased the data on your computer. This will prevent anyone from gaining access to private information like passwords, photos, or secure documents. Make sure you’ve copied all files, passwords, photos, and favorites that you wish to keep. Then erase your computer using a hard drive erasing software; there are many free ones on the internet. If you are not donating your computer, then you can destroy the hard drive with a hammer or send it off to be physically shredded.

Other Uses for your Computer

After you’ve wiped your data, and assuming you didn’t physically destroy any components, assess if your computer can be donated. If the hardware is still usable and is under five years old, consider donating it to charity or some other organization. You can also donate it to a child or an older adult. The Linux Ubuntu operating system is free and secure enough for web browsing and email; it’s also free to download and use, and easy for Windows users. Posting an ad online is a great way to find people who are looking for cheap computers. Do not donate your computer to donation centers, as they will just smash it up if they even take your computer at all.

There are always Take-backs with Computers

If you can’t donate your computer, consider trading your computer in. Many manufacturers will take back your old computers or allow you to trade it in for credit. Computer manufacturers and retailers may take computers back, so check with them. These services may not be advertised, so prepare to research options on your own.

Recycle It

The final option is to recycle your computer. If there is an electronics recycling event in your area, it’s best to use them, as they will recycle your computer according to all applicable laws. There are also recycling organizations that you can call that will recycle your electronics for you.


Before disposing of a computer, always wipe data using a hard drive erasing program. Then find a way to reuse, donate, or trade your computer in. Always recycle as last resort. Whatever you do, do not throw your computer parts away, as this is extremely toxic for the environment and in many areas simply illegal.

Peter Wendt is an established technology writer/researcher based out of Austin, Texas. Peter suggests you learn more about how to dispose of a computer before leaving yours out on the curb.