How to Dispose of Your Laptop Securely in 4 Steps

Have you decided to get rid of your old computer because it was not performing as well as the good days, or you needed an upgrade over a machine that did not completely fulfil your requirements, but you know that just throwing it in the bin is not the best idea? You are in the right place. Many think that a laptop with a dead battery or that won’t turn on is safe to get rid of; truth be told, people with the right skillset and wrong intentions can still be able to access the stored data, in case you’re not careful on the way you dispose of it.

You’re not as safe as you think

In 2013, a study by BSIA (British Security Industry Association) reported that incorrect disposal played a part in 66% of data theft cases. The results were obtained by sampling a group of UK healthcare professionals. Carelessness too often plays a role in the disposal of electronics containing personal and confidential data, leading to data breaches and identity thefts.

Step 1 – Backup your device

Before parting from your laptop, make sure you backup its content and data, either in a new machine, in an external hard drive, or a safe, cloud-based online storage service. Making a backup before disposing of your laptop gives you peace of mind, ensures you don’t lose any of your essential data in the disposal, and allows you not to worry of leaving anything behind.

Depending on your requirements, the space you need, and the type of brand and device you are trying to backup, there are plenty of solutions for you:

  • External hard drives such as Buffalo MiniStation Extreme NFC, Western Digital My Passport Ultra 4TB or Samsung T5 SSD will ensure that, even if you’re hoarding files, photos, and movies, you will face no storage problems. Generally, these devices come at a relatively high price compared with the alternatives. The good thing is you have to pay once to keep your files virtually forever.
  • USB drives come in all sizes and shapes, representing a generally cheaper and even more portable alternative. However, the reduced cost and real estate mean that the storage will generally be lower, making it hard to backup content-rich computers.
  • Cloud-based backup services such as Google Drive, iCloud, and OneDrive. Possibly the most comfortable option on the market, cloud-based storage allows you to back up and access data virtually from any device, giving you the most flexibility at the price of a monthly/yearly subscription.

Step 2: destroy your hard drive or wipe it

There’s no other way around it. You might wonder “who could care enough to steal the data off my hard drive from the bin” or “I manually deleted everything on my computer, I am safe”, but in truth, both of these options are an unnecessary risk in laptop disposal. People can have bad intentions, for once, and most hard drives are built to keep your data stored somewhere, even if you manually delete it from your computer.

Depending on how to decide to dispose of your lap securely, you generally have two available alternatives:

Physically destroy your hard drive

Physical destruction is the evergreen, non-nonsense method that will make sure nobody ever steals data from your old hard drive. To safely demolish your hard drive, ensure you follow some easy steps:

  1. Unplug the device from the power outlet, and let it run until you are sure there is no battery left before opening the laptop case. If you are time-constrained, manually powering off the machine should be enough.
  2. Carefully locate the screws across the case, and unscrew it until the casing is open and components are accessible.
  3. Locate, unplug, and unscrew the hard drive from the casing
  4. Safely tear the hard drive into many little pieces, ensuring you don’t get injured from shards and components. Feel free to use hammers and devices to wipe it, drill holes into it. Continue until you are entirely certain the hard drive is destroyed.

With laptops, however, the parts are located way closer to each other compared to desktops. It is relatively easy to mess up different parts of your computer that could still be useful or sold, therefore only go ahead with the procedure if you are comfortable with laptops and confident you won’t damage any of the other components.

Wipe your hard drive and recycle your laptop

As it is now increasingly evident unless there are pressing reasons to dispose of your computer through physical destructions, there are many environmental and security reasons for you to recycle your laptop. Donating or recycling has steadily picked up the pace. It is currently becoming a popular way of getting rid of unused electronics, sometimes resulting in a profit or just a way of mitigating your costs to upgrade to a new, more powerful model. However, formatting your device won’t be enough for you to be sure you can peacefully part ways with your old laptop, as skilled cybercriminals could still easily access your personal data: banking details, credit card information, you name it. The potential loss is amplified if you are looking to dispose of tens or hundreds of work or business computers. To safely erase all your traces from your laptop, you need to choose a dedicated software that will safely wipe the hard drive for you so that it becomes impossible to retrieve. 

Many free tools fit the purpose; however, if you have sensitive data and are disposing of your assets in bulk, you should consider professional data wiping and sanitisation or secure computer disposal to safeguard your or your company’s data. Data are wiped using state-of-the-art software with proved effectiveness, and the procedure is controlled and standardised. After the wipe is complete, a check to ensure no piece of data remains retrievable. 

Step 3: securely dispose of your laptop and its parts

Even when you rule out any possible harm related to your data, there are still some aspects for you to take care of before you can part ways with your laptop. The machines contain toxic and dangerous substances such as arsenic, mercury, and lead; therefore, it is not environmentally safe to dispose of your computer by just throwing it in a bin.

Among the most valid alternatives, to dispose of your laptop securely, you should:

  1. Recycle it or remarket it: recoup a sum of money for the parts of your computer that still have value. Some companies offer IT remarketing services to recover a part of the cost you sustain. The money you gain can add up when you dispose of machines in bulk, allowing your business to mitigate the costs of replacing the old devices.
  2. Resell it: if your laptop is in good condition and you’re sure behind doubt that the hard drive has no data on it, there’s no reason why you should not be able to recoup part of what you spend on a new device by selling your computer. 
  3. Donate it: if your laptop is not suitable for you but still running, you could donate it. Firstly, you would do the environment a favour, as 70% of a computer’s lifetime footprint is related to the manufacturing process, therefore extending your device’s lifetime can reduce the overall impact on the ecosystem. Donating your laptop would also get one more device in the hands of people who can’t afford it, helping to narrow down the digital divide.
  4. Recycle it: contact your local recycling centre and make sure that you take all the necessary steps to limit your disposal’s environmental impact.

Step 4: Congratulations, you have disposed of your laptop securely

Give yourself a pat on the back. Not only you did not just carelessly throw your computer in the bin, but you also managed to either recoup some of the money you spent by remarketing it or reselling it, or you helped a person in need through a generous donation.

Getting rid of a laptop is not a challenging or time-consuming task, but it has to be taken seriously in order to rule out environmental, safety or financial concerns. This advice is valid whether you’re getting rid of a desktop, laptop, tablet or electronic device in general.