These days, the “circular economy” — an umbrella term for prioritizing the five Rs to reuse, repair, refurbish, resell and recycle existing products — is getting a lot of buzz.
This practice is good for your wallet and Mother Earth. It reduces waste and emissions and encourages repurposing existing items, which can help your local community.
But one big roadblock can get in the way of reselling or recycling your consumer electronics: the personal data that may reside on it. If you think you’re deleting files and folders and emptying your device's recycling bin or going a step further by reformatting the drive, residual data can still be accessed if you haven’t deleted properly.
Consider your private documents, perhaps with financial data and lists of bank accounts and passwords, or maybe your personal photos and home movies. You don’t want strangers poring over any of these.
The solution isn’t to avoid donating, reselling, trading in or recycling your aging devices. Instead, taking a few simple steps before they leave your hands will ensure all of your data is removed completely.
First things first: Back it up
Before you do anything, back up info and media from the desktop computer, laptop, phone or tablet you’re getting rid of. This includes appointments on your calendar, contacts, documents, important emails, notes, photos, videos and web bookmarks.
If you’re getting rid of a computer and you have a lot of files to copy, pick up an inexpensive external hard drive, with prices starting at about $53 for 1 terabyte (TB) of storage or $70 for 2TB. One terabyte equals 1,000 gigabytes (GB), 1 million megabytes or 1 billion kilobytes, to give you an idea of its space using common file sizes on your computer. If you don’t have a lot of files, you might be able to get away with a USB flash drive, also called a thumb drive or jump drive, which might cost you about $15 for 128GB.
You can also upload files and folders to online cloud services, which give you about 5GB of storage for free, depending on the service. You can pay for more storage with a monthly subscription.
To back up your smartphones and tablets, cloud services are the easiest solution since your device may not have a USB-A port to connect to an external drive. But companies do make flash drives with USB-B micro, USB-C and Lightning connectors, such as the SanDisk iXpand family of flash drives.
Some Android phones and tablets also support a removable microSD memory card. Or you can connect your smartphone or tablet to your Windows PC to perform a backup via desktop software like iTunes or the integrated Apple apps on a Mac. Chromebook users can connect an Android phone to the computer via a USB cable and drag and drop the files over.