Computer Recycling and Disposal

Recycling and disposal of older computer equipment is an issue of increasing importance to departments at Penn. Beyond the basic need to clear space in closets or make room for new equipment there are specific concerns regarding environmentally safe disposal and, in many cases, a desire to see systems that still function put to good use in the community. As a starting point for local support providers who need to get rid of old equipment, below are a few recommendations for preparing equipment for recycling or disposal and services that accept equipment donations from departments at Penn.

Preparing Equipment for Recycling

The following recommendations are from Dave Millar, Information Security Officer:

Delete Data from Drives and Storage Media

"When selling or donating old computers, be sure to remove any sensitive data, and make sure that by leaving any commercial software on the machine you are not violating the terms of any software license agreements. Note that files deleted through ordinary means (e.g. dragging to the trash on Windows or Macintosh) can usually be recovered. Use a secure file deletion utility which ensures that the data can not be recovered by successively writing binary ones and zeros over files to be deleted. Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) includes a secure delete function and is freely available for non-commercial use for Windows and Macintosh at Norton Utilities' Wipe Info feature will also securely delete files.

"The same advice applies to storage media like computer tapes, disks, diskettes, etc. Be sure to completely remove any sensitive information before disposing of electronic storage media. University Archives and Records offers a service for secure destruction of confidential electronic records. If you need further help finding tools or services to do this, contact"

Check Software Licenses

"Before transferring computers containing any software, first make sure that Penn is properly licensed to transfer it, that it was not obtained illegally or in violation of license terms, and that the software was never copied illegally or in violation of license terms. Make sure that the transfer conforms with terms of the software license."

Computer Donations Programs

The following accept equipment from departments, recycling or disposing of it as appropriate:

  • Penn's Center for Community Partnerships: Contact: Isabel Sampson-Mapp or Cory Bowman at (215) 898-2020.
  • Goodwill: Contact: Bob Mattson at (610) 777-7875 x262.
  • Dell Financial Services offers Asset Recover Services.

Environmental Regulations

There are specific EPA guidelines for disposal of some equipment components. In addition, there may be other regulations imposed at the state or local level.The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection web site discusses Electronic Discards within their Household Hazardous Waste web site, but it's not clear the same rules would govern disposal at Penn.

Local organizations such as Nonprofit Technology Resources (which is utilized by Penn's Center for Community Partnerships) appear to take care of the potential hazards indentified by the EPA in disposing of computers. Penn's Center for Community Partnerships is also working with Elemental Inc., a local electronics salvager.

Almanac, Vol. 47, No. 20, January 30, 2001