Recycling computing equipment can keep harmful materials such as lead, mercury, and hexavalent chromium out of landfills, and can also replace equipment that otherwise would need to be manufactured, saving further energy and emissions.

Computer systems that have outlived their particular function can be re-purposed, or donated to various charities and non-profit organizations. However, many charities have recently imposed minimum system requirements for donated equipment. Additionally, parts from outdated systems may be salvaged and recycled through certain retail outlets and municipal or private ecycling centres.

Computing supplies, such as printer cartridges, paper, and batteries may be recycled as well. A drawback too many of these schemes is that computers gathered through recycling drives are often shipped to developing countries where environmental standards are less strict than in North America and Europe.

The recycling of old computers raises an important privacy issue. The old storage devices still hold private information, such as emails, passwords, and credit card numbers, which can be recovered simply by someone’s using software available freely on the Internet.

Deletion of a file does not actually remove the file from the hard drive. Before recycling a computer, users should remove the hard drive, or hard drives if there is more than one, and physically destroy it or store it somewhere safe. There are some authorized hardware recycling companies to whom the computer may be given for recycling, and they typically sign a non-disclosure agreement.

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