Discard office electronics safely

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Disposing of outdated office computers, printers and copiers the right way is not only important for protecting the environment but also staves off the efforts of data thieves.

Electronics contain toxic poisons such as lead, mercury and cadmium, which if just tossed into a landfill will eventually leak 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.

The Better Business Bureau recommends taking the following steps to ensure that all hazardous and data-sensitive office equipment is disposed of the right way:

STEP 1, IDENTIFY RISK: The following office equipment contains 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: Ensure data has been wiped before getting rid of the following electronics:

- Computers: You can buy inexpensive software to wipe a hard drive, but the data could still be retrievable. If you have extremely sensitive information, the most secure way of destroying the data is to physically destroy the hard drive.

- Copiers and printers: Internal hard drives save digital copies of the documents these devices have printed. Consult the manual to find out how to wipe the memory; you can also use third-party software to overwrite the drive. The most secure way of erasing data is to physically destroy the drive -- as long as you don't lease the product. If you lease, ask the company about 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When it comes to actually getting rid of outdated office electronics, many options are available depending on the condition of the item, the retailer, the manufacturer and, in some cases, state laws. The following are the main methods to consider:

- Donate. Schools, charities and community organizations can use computer equipment, phones, copiers, printers and other electronic items as long as they are in proper working condition. Your donation might even be tax-deductible.

- Recycle. Many companies break down and recycle old electronics for free. They usually have drop-off locations, or you might even be able to schedule a pickup if you have many heavy items.

To locate a BBB-accredited e-cycler, visit www.bbb.org/us/bbb-accredited-businesses.

Many states offer e-cycling programs -- some of which are mandatory. A list of state programs is on the EPA's Web site at www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/ecycling/live.htm.

- Return. Some manufacturers, including Canon and Apple, and retailers such as Best Buy and Costco provide "take- back" programs to help customers recycle their old products. 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 www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/donate.htm.

- Resell. Though more labor- intensive, you might be able to make a little money selling your electronics through auction Web sites or online classifieds. Be wary if any buyers overpay or ask you to wire money.

Reach Kelvin Collins, the president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia and the CSRA Inc., at (800) 763-4222 or www.bbb.org.


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