November 13th - 2009

WIRED OFFICE: Safe disposal of consumer electronics

As consumers, we often want the latest and greatest techie toys with the newest bells and whistles.

As consumers, we often want the latest and greatest techie toys with the newest bells and whistles. The fact is, we all have older model electronics lying around and we don’t know what to do with them. Well it’s time to clean up and get rid of the electronic clutter. For the sake of this article, we will be discussing the disposal of consumer electronics.

The one thing you don’t want to do with old electronics is throw them in the garbage with the mentality of “out of sight, out of mind”. For the sake of future generations as well as ours, we do not want legacy electronics piling up in our landfills. Many of the materials used in electronics, such as steel, glass, aluminum and plastic can be recycled into new products. Unfortunately, most electronics also contain some level of lead, phosphorous, cadmium, barium, mercury and other chemicals which need to be properly disposed of. When dumped into landfills, this toxic chemical cocktail can leach into the environment. All no longer loved electronics must be disposed of in a safe and responsible manner.

When you’re no longer using an item, explore redeploying it. Do you know anyone – family or friends - who would like to have your unwanted but still operational electronics? Or if they aren’t operational, can someone use the parts? If you don’t know anyone who can use them, you can try selling them on Craigslist or eBay. Or give them away through Freecycle ( Or donate them to charity.

No matter what you do with your old electronics, always be sure to back up and remove your data!

Data removal
To clear your computer’s hard drive, you can:

  • Re-format the hard drive and re-install the operating system. Be aware that there are utilities that can be used to make at least some of your data re-appear, though often in fragmentary form.
  • Obtain software such as Evidence Eliminator™ or Symantec’s Norton Utilities or Systemworks’ Wipe Info program. There are others applications available – some must be purchased, some are free utilities. You can search for these on the internet.
  • Physically damage the hard drive. Remove the hard drive from the computer, and take a hammer to it. This may sound extreme, but the data on your hard drive will no longer be viewable by anyone.
  • Removing data from your camera’s digital memory is as easy as reformatting the card using the camera’s Format function.
  • Prior to recycling or disposing of your old cell phone, delete all your stored numbers and call log files. Remove the SIM card if you have one.
  • iPods can be reset by connecting to iTunes and reverting back to the factory settings. Other MP3 players can also be reset to their factory settings – check the instructions that came with your player (these can often be found online if you no longer have them).

Safely disposing of your equipment
Most of the major computer manufacturers, like Apple, Dell, HP, Toshiba, Lenovo and Sony have recycling programs. You can send back your old hardware and they will safely process, recycle and dispose of it. Most will charge a small fee to help cover costs for this service. Some of these manufacturers will redeploy the computers to schools and/or other organizations in need of equipment.

You can consider donating your old computers and peripherals to an organization such as reBOOT Canada ( They accept donations of computer equipment, refurbish as much as possible and distribute to organizations across Canada. Some charities consider the donation of old electronics as a charitable donation, and tax receipts are issued.

Bell, Rogers and Telus accept old cell phones for recycling at no cost to you. There are also a number of non-profit organizations that will recycle your old cell phone, such as The Charitable Recycling Program of Canada (

Sometimes, digital cameras can be traded-in towards a newer model. Or, they (and MP3 players) can be donated to organizations such as Value Village or Goodwill.

You do have options to safely dispose of your no longer used electronics.

  • Ask friends and family if they want the equipment.
  • Explore which charities accept donations.
  • Check with manufacturers or suppliers of equipment to see if they’ll take back and recycle your old electronics.
  • Use household hazardous waste sites.

If you’re still unsure of how to safely dispose of your electronics, check out this website:

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