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Council of Better Business Bureaus ®
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Council of Better Business Bureaus
Three Easy Steps to Dispose of Office Electronics
December 07, 2010
Disposing of outdated office computers, printers and copiers the right way is not only important for protecting the environment, it also staves off the efforts of data thieves. Better Business Bureau explains the three steps necessary for small business owners to dispose of old office equipment safely and securely.
Disposing of outdated office computers, printers and copiers the right way is not only important for protecting the environment, it also staves off the efforts of data thieves. Better Business Bureau explains the three steps necessary for small business owners to dispose of old office equipment safely and securely.

Electronics contain toxic poisons such as lead, mercury and cadmium which if they are just tossed into a landfill will eventually leak out and pollute the soil and water.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 1.84 million tons of TVs, computers, printers, cell phones and other electronics were discarded primarily into landfills in 2007.  Only 18 percent of discarded electronics were recycled that year, however, the EPA notes that e-cycling is growing in popularity perhaps due to mandatory programs in some states.

“When tossing old electronics you need to consider both the environmental and data security concerns,” said Alison Southwick, BBB spokesperson. “Computers, cell phones and copiers not only contain toxic chemicals that can pollute the environment, they also contain a wealth of information that data thieves would love to get their hands on.”

BBB recommends taking the following step to ensure that all hazardous and data sensitive office equipment is disposed of the right way:

Step 1: Identify hazardous and data-sensitive electronics
The following office equipment contain toxic materials or sensitive data and should be recycled responsibly and not just tossed into the garbage:

  • Computer CPUs
  • Mobile phones
  • Copiers, Printers and Fax Machines
  • Monitors, Keyboards, Speakers and Mice
  • Landline phones
  • Computer cables and wires
  • TVs, VCRs, DVRs and stereos

Step 2: Destroy Sensitive Data
While most electronics have toxic components, some also contain sensitive business information stored in the product’s hard drive. Ensure that any data has been wiped before getting rid of the following electronics:

  • Computers: You can purchase inexpensive software to wipe a computer’s hard drive, but the data could still be retrievable to a determined person. If you have extremely sensitive information that you don’t want getting into anyone’s hands, the most secure way of destroying the data is to remove and physically destroy the hard drive.
  • Copiers and Printers: Copiers and printers have internal hard drives that save digital copies of the documents it has printed.  Consult the manual to find out how to wipe the memory; you can also use third-party software to overwrite the hard drive. The most secure way of erasing data is to physically destroy the hard drive—as long as you don’t lease the product. If you lease, consult with the company on how your data will be erased.
  • Mobile Phones: Consult the owner’s manual or search online for directions on how to wipe the phone’s memory. Remove the SIM card if your phone has one.

Step 3: Dispose Properly
When it comes to actually getting rid of outdated office electronics, there are many options available depending on the condition of the item, the retailer, the manufacturer and, in some cases, state laws. Following are the main disposal methods to consider:

  • Donate – Schools, charities and community organizations can use your electronics—such as computer equipment, phones, copiers and printers—as long as they are in proper working condition. Your donation may even be tax deductible.

  • Recycle – There are many companies across the country that break down and recycle old electronics for free. They usually have drop off locations or you may even be able to schedule a pick up if you have many heavy items. To locate a BBB Accredited e-cycler visit www.bbb.org/us/bbb-accredited-businesses.  Many states also offer e-cycling programs—some of which are mandatory. A list of state programs are available on the EPA’s web site: http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/ecycling/live.htm

  • Return – Some manufacturers including Cannon and Apple and even retailers such as Best Buy and Costco provide “take back” programs to help customers recycle their old products safely and cheaply. Every major cell phone carrier will also take your old cell phone and donate it to a charity or have it disposed of properly.  The EPA has a list of manufacturer and retailer programs online at http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/donate.htm

  • Resell – While more labor intensive, you may be able to make a little money selling your electronics through auction websites or online classifieds.  Be wary if any buyers overpay or ask you to wire money for any reason.

For more small business advice on how to manage data check out Data Security – Made Simpler at www.bbb.org/data-security