Q: What's the best way to safely and securely dispose of my old tech devices?
A: Sounds like you recently found yourself staring in bewilderment at a closet full of discarded and useless computer towers, monitors, desktop printers, keyboards and other old electronic devices. According to Mark Bowles, founder and chief marketing officer of San Diego-based ecoATM, you're not alone in confronting this digital disposal dilemma. The U.S. generated 2.4 million tons of e-waste in 2010, and GBI Research expects global e-waste recovery to be a $21 billion industry by 2020.
That's great news for Bowles, whose company offers a self-serve kiosk that buys back used electronics (mostly mobile phones) directly from consumers. The e-waste is sold either to refurbishers, who resell the wares around the world, or to recyclers, who strip them down for the plastic and metals.
Bowles gave us his take on high-tech trash.
What's the first step in discarding electronics?
Always erase your data before you sell or recycle your old devices. The easiest way is to run a Google search for the "factory reset" option for your device, then follow the instructions. This takes just a few keystrokes and usually does a good job. However, it won't stop a data-recovery expert with sophisticated tools who's motivated to recover your information. If you're really concerned about your legacy data, remove the hard drive completely and either keep it or disable it--a drill press or hammer will do the job.
So hackers can gain access to the files on a recycled computer?
It's rare. Most hackers looking for valuable data target specific people instead of mining through random devices in the recycling process. Reputable recycling firms strive to reach 100 percent erased on any used electronics they handle, because it can be a big liability. They want to protect your data as much as you do. Best insurance policy? Erase your data in advance and ask for a certificate of destruction by serial number from the recycler.
What should I look for in an e-waste recycler?
The electronic waste business has matured rapidly over the past several years with standards and certifications such as R2, e-Stewards and the Device Renewal Forum emerging. Look for companies that are certified in some or all of these standards, because they stick to best practices when handling personal data. These standards are relatively new but have already gained good traction with industry players that are serious about handling these issues properly.