How to dispose of hazardous household materials: Computer and Cellphone Edition!

Aug 22 2011

A decrease in production costs and rapid technological advancements has created an environment in which buying a new computer, mobile phone and their accompanying accessories are as common as changing your underwear!  We all know how it goes: you get a new computer or phone, you obsess over how superior it is to its predecessor, you spend lots of money on the latest accessories and protective cases… And then alas, merely a few months later you wake up one morning to find out there is an even better and more advanced device out on the market. After exercising a certain degree of self-control, most of us generally crack and indulge in buying the new and updated version of what we already had, before it is actually necessary! The big question then becomes what to do with these “old”  items!?!? As we will discuss below there are a number of environmental and community friendly ways that you can dispose of your “ancient” computers, cell phones, printers, cables, mice, keyboards…etc. One thing that you should NOT do is simply toss these items in the trash because many of them contain toxic levels of mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic and beryllium.


First thing we must be mindful of here is what is on our hard drives. In this day and age, we use our computers for pretty much everything including banking, paying bills, shopping, filing taxes…etc. This means that much of our important personal information such as account numbers, social security numbers, credit card info and so on are readily accessible via our hard drives. Before disposing of an old computer we must, therefore, ensure that others are not able to access this information. Simply deleting and trashing files is not enough. There are a few ways to protect ourselves:

1)  A cheap and effective method is to remove the hard drive from the computer and either store it in a safe place or destroy it (using a hammer or axe).

2) There are programs such as Darik’s Boot and Nuke which will permanently delete all the data from the hard drive. This can be a lengthy process but definitely worth the time! Note: if you don’t have patience/competence to use one of these programs you can always ask one of your “geeky” tech-savy friends or relatives to help you out.

Once you destroy the private data on your hard drive you have a few options to ditch your old computer:

a) You can drop off the computer and its accompanying accessories at a thrift store or local retailer who will refurbish and donate it to schools or people in need. Note: If your computer is over 5 years old it may be too costly to upgrade and you should, therefore, consider another option.

b) You can try to sell it either to a local electronics retailer or online. You can also do this with old keyboards, mice, printers and cables.

c) You can repurpose it by updating it using Linux and giving to your children, parents, or grandparents to do simple things like surf the internet, play games, and use their email.

d) You can keep it and use it as a backup. We’ve all had computer problems and it is nice to have something to use while our prized possession is at the repair shop.

e) Many companies such as Dell and HP will let you trade in your computer when you buy a new one from them.

f) Now if your computer is actually ancient (as in from the 80s or 90s) you may consider donating it to an old computer museum in your area.


Ink cartridges tend to contain many toxic materials that if discarded in the trash and ultimately in a landfill can pollute our air and water supply. Many office supply retailers have cartridge recycling programs in place. Sometimes this may even translate into a store discount. Another option is to look at the manufacturing company’s website and see if they reuse the empty cartridges. If that is the case you can send in your empties in for reuse.


With cellphones, as with computers, we must remember that their is a lot of important personal data that is saved on it. The first thing to do would be to remove the SIM card (assuming that there is one) and destroy it. Secondly, you should permanently delete all info stored on your old cellphone. Generally you can find how to do so either by looking at the owner’s manual, or on your wireless provider’s or the phone manufacturer’s website.

Once you have ensured that all important information has been removed from the phone you can do one of a few things. Remember that cell phones contain batteries and batteries have high levels of toxic metals that are harmful to our environment. So again tossing it in the trash is not an environmentally responsible way to dispose of your old phone. Alternative and greener options are to:

a)  Sell the phone and its accessories on websites such as eBay.

b) Donate phone to an organization that will redistribute them to the less fortunate.

c) Recycle it by dropping the phone off at your local wireless service provider’s store or sending it back to the manufacture (assuming that they have a recycling program in place).

**It is important to keep in mind that the best way to protect our environment is to limit our consumption of electronic items and only get new ones on an as need basis!!

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