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Issue #804: December 18-24, 2022

Q: I know it has been answered quite a few years ago, but I would like it addressed again. We all have lots of old devices and computers that we need to get rid of. In today’s world we are all more concerned about identity theft and having our data stolen for purposes which can harm us financially. We also like to recycle parts, plastic, and metals if at all possible. Can you give us guidance for our local area? I have tried to find a local hard drive shredding service with no luck.

– Judy B.
City Withheld By Request

A: Considering that we’re only a few weeks after Black Friday/Cyber Monday, and getting really close to Christmas, this is a very timely question, since many Geeks out there will find themselves with shiny new hardware, and facing the deciding of what to do with the old.  Let’s see whether I can offer any useful advice, shall we?

First, I want to handle your question about hard drive shredding.  I hope you realize that you asked me to withhold your city, and then asked for location-specific services.  I’ll do my best to comply with both parts of your request.  One of the largest companies offering such shred services is Shred-it, which you can easily find using Google.  They have locations in many large cities, but they do charge for the service.  Before you go to all that trouble, have you considered just using a hammer or a big rock?  I promise you, if you beat it up enough, nobody is going to be recovering anything from your drive any time soon.

But, why destroy it at all?  You said you like to recycle?  The ultimate recycling of an old PC is to repurpose it into something else, such as a home media appliance.  It could become a network-attached storage (NAS) device, or a multimedia streaming device, sharing music, movies and photos anywhere on your network, and even outside the home with the right setup.  You’re only real limit is your imagination.  And yes, older hardware is ideal for these purposes, since their function does not require huge amounts of processing power, like many people want from their daily-use PC.

If you’re bound and determined to get rid of the hardware, there are options, but there are steps you should take first.  You’re on the right track with trying to prevent your personal data from falling into the wrong hands, but there are far less destructive ways to accomplish that than physically destroying the drive.  Before you start, make sure you have backed-up up all of your important files, or simply transfer them to a new system, or whatever mass-storage solution you use. Double- and triple-check this, because there’s no going back if you forget something.  Empty your Recycle Bin, delete your browsing history and favorites, uninstall all your personally owned software, and then use a tool such as CCleaner or Eraser or Windows’ own Cipher command to wipe the drive’s free space.  This ensures that deleted files can’t be recovered. 

Once it’s secured, you’re ready to dispose of it in whatever manner suits you.  First off, you shouldn’t just throw these devices away, because virtually all electronic devices contain some quantity of chemicals in the batteries and other components that should not simply wind up in a landfill, as they are harmful to the environment.

If I were trying to dispose of tech, the first thing I’d do is run a Google search on “dispose of old computers” and narrow the search to places near you.  I ran such a search in the process of researching this article and found several.

One final tip regarding Apple products.  If they are in reasonable condition, you might be able to trade them in when you buy new stuff.  People are often surprised at how much money they can get back.  But honestly, if you’re giving away old iPads, be sure and check with me – I might even be able to make use of them myself!

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