Now that social distancing has become a fact of our everyday lives — whether that means working from home, distance learning, or Zoom happy hours and Netflix Party sessions with friends — many of us are doing more with our personal devices than ever before, and that’s not ending anytime soon.
To stay productive and sane in this new reality, a technology upgrade may be in order. When you move on to a new device, it’s important to part with your old one as responsibly as you can, not only to protect your privacy and personal data, but also for the good of the planet. After all, the world already generates 50 million metric tons of electronic waste a year, according to the World Economic Forum. That number could double by 2050 if consumers and companies don’t change the way they’re discarding their smartphones, laptops, PCs, gaming systems, and printers, which can contain toxic substances like lead, mercury, and cadmium that shouldn’t end up in landfills.
“There are other options besides chucking a device in the trash or leaving it in the closet,” says Shelley Zimmer, sustainability program manager at HP. “Making sure it goes on to have another life is the responsible thing to do for the environment, and for society.”
Here’s a look at how you can make smart, responsible choices when it’s time to upgrade to something new.
First things first: Transfer and protect your data
No matter what you do with an existing device, you’ll want to preserve important files and photos and protect your personal information — including passwords.
Craig Petronella, a cybersecurity and digital forensics expert, says that a lot of tech owners don’t take all the necessary steps, leaving their information — from bank account numbers to sensitive email messages — vulnerable. “It’s up to the consumer to properly wipe their device,” says Petronella, founder and president of Petronella Cybersecurity.
Research from security company Rapid7, for example, shows used devices sold in secondhand shops are filled with prior owners’ personal data, including Social Security and passport numbers, email addresses, and credit card information.