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Erase Your Computer Before Recycling

On Tuesday I talked about recycling our old cell phones. This came about because of a fall cleaning of our office, and the biggest piece of electronics that we needed to get rid of was our desktop computer. My tech guru, Jason, talks about how he prepared it for reuse.

Our computer turned 10 this year. We replaced it with an energy-efficient NAS that we could access from a laptop, but then we had to figure out what to do with it. Since it still runs, if a little slowly, we’re giving it to my mom. Her computer is newer, but ours is custom built, so it runs faster.

The number one reason people let their old computers gather dust is that they’re worried about their data getting out in the world. I once held onto an old hard drive for five years because I never got around to wiping it.

Most computer file systems are organized so that when you trash a file, you’re only deleting the operating system’s knowledge of its location. The file is still sitting on your hard drive, and someone who knows what they are doing could come along after you, scan the hard drive, and undelete your files.

Ooooh...scary

The solution to that is Darik’s Boot and Nuke (DBAN for short). Download this program, burn it to a CD, and then boot off the CD. It offers several levels of cleaning. Unless you’re harboring military secrets, just select the first level. Now you’ve got a clean hard drive that’s ready for reuse or recycling. DBAN writes and re-writes your hard drive with a variety of different bit patterns until all trace of your original data is gone.

Other levels of DBAN offer Department-of-Defense-worthy erasure, but, honestly, after the first level only someone with significant scientific background and some heavy-duty equipment would be able to find your data again.

If your computer is so old that no one would want to use it, or broken, you should still do this before sending it off for recycling. We’re lucky that our town recycles computers, but if yours doesn’t, there are a lot of manufacturers and retailers that will accept electronics. Engadget lists a bunch of them, but an especially easy service is Recycle a PC from Metech Recycling. They accept 60 pounds worth of electronics through the mail for $30. And they’re e-Steward certified, so you know your computer isn’t going to be poisoning some third-world country.

One year ago: Water Filter Update.