The proper way to recycle your PC

Did you buy yourself a brand-spanking-new PC for Christmas? You're probably feeling pretty good about yourself. Not so fast – what do you plan to do with your old system? Don't just stash it in your spare room or a closet, where it will come back to haunt you eventually. Clearing the clutter out well before spring cleaning season will earn you a black belt in Feng Shui (possibly).

If your system still works okay, the best move is to donate it to a family member or friend who might not have a PC, or only a very old one (with yours being an upgrade). You could also give it away to a local charity, or give it away for nothing on Freecycle, where it will go to someone who can make good use of it.

If you can’t find any way to easily get rid of your computer, or if it’s well and truly broken so no one would want it, then you’re best off responsibly recycling it. Here's how to get your machine ready for retirement.

1. Back up your files

Assuming you can still boot your PC, you should copy any important files you want to keep onto an external drive. You can do this manually, or install software to do the job for you, such as Paragon's Backup & Recovery 2013 Free (which, as the name suggests, is free). If your PC is totally non-functioning, then to get your data out, you’ll just have to remove the hard disk and at a later date you can put the drive in another machine to access it.

2. Wipe your hard drive

When you’ve backed up all those files, wipe your hard disk. Although a recycled computer will most likely be ripped up, don't assume that someone down the line won't try to plug it in – especially if the system still works – or indeed, they may snaffle the hard disk and put that in another machine. So, to be on the safe side, it’s a good idea to wipe the hard drive completely, including the operating system to remove your version of Windows. You can use software such as DBAN or Eraser to securely wipe your hard drive. Alternatively, if you’re really paranoid, take your hard drive out to the shed and hit it with a hammer repeatedly until the platter(s) break – when you shake the disk, if it sounds like a rattle then it’s done for. (Some folks might enjoy this last method more, too).

3. Salvage what you can

Before you toss out the bytes with the bathwater, take a moment to consider whether there's anything inside that's still in good working order. If there is, you may be able to use it down the road. Since your graphics card and motherboard are most likely outdated, they probably aren't going to be of much use to you, but hard drives, sticks of RAM, cooling fans, and optical drives are good examples of components that are easy to remove and less likely to become obsolete.

4. Find a reputable recycling location

You can find your nearest recycling centre by visiting this web page and entering your postcode. Also note that some PC vendors will take your old computer away when you buy a new machine from them.

5. Spread the word

Brag about your good deed to friends, family, and co-workers. Try to get your company to participate in a corporate take-back program. Send links to recycling locations and possible donation sites to friends. Spread the word about the importance of recycling!