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How to Recycle Laptops Safely and Responsibly

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Old laptops are generally not accepted in curbside recycling programs, but they can be treated under special electronic waste recycling programs. And because laptops can contain valuable materials including gold, silver, and platinum, recycling them is actually profitable, which means that many enthusiastic recyclers are ready to get rid of them.

Since laptops contain heavy metals and dangerous chemicals that can negatively impact the environment, they should be handled with care and recycling should be left to the professionals.

Laptop Recycling Facts

Generally, all parts of a laptop are recyclable. Laptops are made up of things like glass, metal, batteries, and electronic parts which can all be recycled at specialized facilities.

Some electronic parts in a laptop computer, like motherboards and hard drives, can even be sold and reused in refurbished products.

How to prepare your laptop for recycling

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Your laptop probably contains sensitive personal information, such as your bank account information and your Social Security number. To prevent identity theft or scams, erase your personal information from your laptop before sending it to a recycler.

First, create a backup to save the important data. Plug in an external hard drive and save any files you want to keep there. You can also save this data to a USB stick or store it in the cloud. Then you can easily transfer this data to your new laptop and erase it from your old one.

Wipe down your old laptop’s hard drive by manually deleting files and, to go further, using a shredder program to overwrite the files. You can then restore the computer to factory settings.

If your laptop won’t turn on for you to clean it, you can remove the hard drive or destroy it to protect the data. The best way to destroy it is to puncture it or break the circuit board.

You may also need to remove the battery from your laptop to recycle it separately. Turn your laptop over and remove it before sending it to a recycler.

How to recycle laptops

If environmental hazards aren’t reason enough to recycle your old laptop, consider this: Recycling a million laptops can save enough energy to power 3,500 American homes for an entire year.

Finding a reputable recycler may require some research. Start by exploring the following options to ensure that your device is treated responsibly.

Find a recycler near you

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There are several specialist electronics recyclers. But beware, there are crooks posing as recyclers who want to steal personal information on your hard drive. This is why it is so important to wipe it clean before recycling it.

Another important step in reducing the risk of being scammed is to do your research and recycle your laptop through a reputable recycler, preferably an EPA certified recycler.

Trade-in programs

Many electronics retailers offer recycling programs for certain devices. Staples and Best Buy both accept laptops for recycling.

Some laptop manufacturers, such as Apple and Dell, have similar take-back programs to accept used devices. Check with your laptop manufacturer for recycling options. Often times, they will take care of the dirty work for you for free and may even offer you a discount on a new device.

Ways to reuse laptops

If your laptop still works (at least a little), then reusing it is a more eco-friendly decision. Here are some options to give your old device a second life.

Strip it

In some cases, you can reuse the laptop for parts. You can save the hard drive to turn it into an external hard drive. You can also recover its CD or DVD drive to use it externally, which will be useful if you have a small laptop or tablet that does not have one.

Turn it into an external monitor

You can also reuse your old laptop as an external monitor, as long as the monitor is in good condition. Using multiple monitors while you’re at your new computer can help you work much faster.

To do this, you will need to use an app to control your old laptop remotely or cables to connect your devices.

Use it as a digital photo frame

If you are not used to electronic parts, you will probably need someone’s help to complete this project.

Take the laptop apart and install the circuitry and LCD screen in a shadow box to turn it into a digital photo frame. You can then use a program to display a slideshow of your favorite photos, which can be a fun addition to the family room.

Create a network storage system

If there’s still room on your old laptop’s hard drive, you can turn it into a Network Attached Storage (NAS) to add storage to your other devices. A NAS allows you to store data and share files with all the computers connected to your network, which is especially useful when multiple people on your network need to access the same files.

Use an app to configure your NAS. Download the app and create a bootable USB or CD drive that facilitates quick and easy remote access to the laptop and its hard drive.

Donate your old laptop

If you don’t have any use for your old, working laptop, donate it to charity instead of recycling it. This way, someone else can use it before the end of their life. Laptops less than five years old are generally the best candidates for donation.

Donate your laptop to:

Or find an organization near you that will accept them. Your school system or local library will be happy to take away a laptop computer to help students in need.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does Best Buy recycle old laptops?

    Yes, Best Buy accepts free recycling for laptops and other electronics at all of its stores. You can recycle up to three items per household per day.

  • Can an entire laptop be recycled?

    In most cases, an entire laptop can be recycled. Most of the materials in a laptop are valuable and can be used to create new products.

    Typically, laptop computer batteries are recycled in a specific way and should be removed and recycled separately.

  • Should I remove the hard drive before recycling a laptop?

    For safety reasons, you should remove the hard drive before recycling a laptop, unless you wipe it down first. This way you make sure that the data on your hard drive will be inaccessible in the future.

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