Our house is a graveyard. Scattered about, hidden in closets and collecting dust on shelves are the corpses of old technologies.
One box filled with ancient data cables no longer useful. Another box stuffed with hard drives in a variety of capacities: 64, 128, 256 and 320 gigabytes. Two more boxes contain a hodgepodge of yesterday’s technologies, including an Iomega Zip drive and a 3.5-inch floppy drive that was used with an original iMac. Two keyboards. Adapters galore.
A “lampshade” iMac sits in the garage. An early Intel-based iMac sits on the guestroom floor. Our daughters play with two old MacBook Pro computers, pre- tending that these long-dead systems still function.
I vow that we will recycle ours before we move again. Of course, I made that same resolution before we moved into our current house and yet much of the old gear followed us.
Our endless upgrades leave a trail of debris. The average computer is used for three years, the average phone for two years.
People often blame technology companies for the collection of cables, heaps of hard drives and mounds of monitors, but that’s not entirely fair. We want our technology to improve, and improvements often require abandoning older technologies.
LCD, LED and OLED screens are clearly superior to older cathode-ray tube (CRT) computer monitors and televisions. I couldn’t wait to replace our bulky and heavy 15-inch, tube-based monitors with larger, lighter and superior screens. It is a shame the hefty CRTs had to be disposed of, but nobody misses them.
The Universal Serial Bus (USB) has evolved from a slow connection for devices such as mice to a high-speed connection capable of connecting to monitors. Old USB devices, hubs and cables don’t support newer, faster hardware. A long list of other cable types is useless with new computers and devices, too. Parallel, serial, FireWire and others should be recycled.
When I purchased a new MacBook Pro, I was sure that I would need adapters and dongles to connect to various devices. Instead, I purchased one Thunderbolt 3 hub and was done.
I’ll never need an ancient printer cable or any of a dozen video cables again. The VGA, DVI, DVI-I, Mini-DVI and Mini-DisplayPort cables don’t connect to any monitor or projector we own.
We also have a pile of docks and power cables for the old 30-pin Apple iPods. Those all need to be recycled.
The stacks of hard drives bother me a bit, but my wife and I outgrew them over time. We do what we can to upgrade parts instead of replacing complete computer systems, and most of our computers have undergone at least two drive upgrades. Today, each of our systems uses a solid-state drive (SSD). The speed and reliability of the SSDs makes them a superior technology, especially in portable systems. When I upgraded an aging MacBook Pro, the boot time dropped from two minutes to 15 seconds.
The older drives serve no useful purpose. Amazingly, there are flash drives with more storage than some of the drives we’ve stashed away. After upgrading, I hesitate to securely format and recycle any drive until I’m certain that the data all exist on the replacement. Now that years have passed by since these drives were inside any computers, it is time to wipe and recycle them.
Before you recycle any data device, you should do more than a basic file deletion or reformatting of the drive.
A secure erase and format of the drive takes a few hours. There are, sadly, people who do try to recover confidential data from discarded devices.
Apple’s Disk Utility offers Department of Defense-certified data erasure. Use that feature on any drive that you plan to recycle.
Since Windows 8, Microsoft has included the option to overwrite data when formatting a drive. Using at least four passes provides secure erasure. The syntax for secure formatting of
a drive is “Format [drive]: /P:4” (any number up to eight is reasonable, but more passes require more time).
If you really want to secure old data, disassemble the hard drive, then recycle the parts.
We should feel some guilt about all the waste we create, especially since the manufacturing and recycling processes both generate significant toxic waste.
Many places offer recycling for small devices, cables, ink cartridges and so on. Some stores still offer credit for laser printer cartridges, too. For example, on its website, Staples lists all electronic waste it accepts for recycling at no charge. Office Depot and OfficeMax stores sell recycling boxes for a small fee, which you can fill and return to their stores.
Tulare County’s Environmental Health Division offers an online list of recycling options (tularecountyeh.org). There are locations throughout the county, most accepting computer gear and other electronics through the week.
We took our monitors and old televisions to recycling centers a few years ago. Sadly, I still see neighbors putting large CRT screens out with the weekly trash. You should never dispose of a CRT in the normal trash because so many of the components are toxic. The screens also shatter, making them dangerous to handle.
Recycling technology presents many problems. The batteries are toxic, as are many screen components. Separating the gold, copper and other valuable metals from the plastic pieces requires toxic chemical washes.
Computer waste often ends up overseas, with low-paid workers disassembling the gear and sorting the pieces into piles. It can be better for the environment and people to pass along working hardware to others who can still use the gear.
Old phones and tablets might be eligible for credit if you return them when purchasing a new device. Online services including Gazelle, Decluttr, uSell and Swappa offer to buy old devices that they refurbish and sell. Receiving a few dollars for devices is nice, and it reduces waste.
Working computers that might not run the latest Apple or Microsoft operating systems can be repurposed using the Linux operating system.
Goodwill Industries has many locations that refurbish and repurpose such computers for use in schools and at nonprofit organizations.
Reuse and recycle whatever technology you can.