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The Definitive Guide to Laptop Recycling

About 320 tons of gold and 7,500 tons of silver are used to produce personal computers worldwide every year.

However, it’s much cheaper to recover precious metals from recycled electronics than to mine and process raw ore from the ground. Not to mention the pollution and emissions that come with mining and metallurgy.

The EPA reports say if we recycle one million laptops then we can save the energy equivalent to what 3,500 US homes use in a year.

This shows there is clearly much to be gained from recycling your old laptop. But before you do so, there are some things you should keep in mind first.

How to Prepare Your Laptop for Recycling

1. Backup

With cloud services we have today, backing up your files onto an external hard disk might seem like going the extra mile. However, it’s always a good idea for you to do a physical backup before recycling your laptop.

(Note: After backing up your files, you may want to destroy your old hard drive as well to ensure all your data are as as safe as possible. See how you can do that here.)

Prices of electronics are going down, so these days you can find great deals on external HDD and SDD drives, and with standard capacities of 1 to 2TB, you can easily store everything you find worth saving.

Seagate's Portable 2TB External Hard Drive is a good option because it manages to squeeze in a large amount of storage in such a small package.

This one's is best used as a backup drive or as a permanent archive drive, but reviewers have noted that it also holds up well as a portable external drive for everyday use.

This is because you can play games or use any software straight from it without any glitches or lags.

If you need bigger storage, then the WD 5TB P10 Game Drive Portable External Hard Drive might work better for you.

It's highly rated by almost all reviewers because not only does it pack a whopping 5TB in storage space, it's also compatible with both PS4 and Xbox One (and of course, with PC and Mac).

As a gamer, I love it because of its storage space and compatibility. However, it's also a serious machine for backup and archival work, even for non-gamers out there.

This is because its metal top cover assures you that it will last for a long time. It also doesn't hurt that it's less expensive than other 5TB drives out there.

2. Deauthorize

Applications like Adobe Creative and iTunes limit the number of devices that can use the same account. Before you wipe your disk clean for recycling, don’t forget to deauthorize these services on your computer first.

Although Adobe products usually allow for their software to be installed on two computers, there’s no point in keeping them on a computer you’re going to recycle, right?

To deactivate them, do this on your Adobe software:

  1. Go to Help
  2. Click Deactivate
  3. Click Deactivate Permanently

It’s even easier with iTunes. The steps are:

  1. Run the application
  2. Click on Account
  3. Click Deauthorize This Computer

That’s it! You’re good to go.

3. Clean and Reset

Dragging all your files and folders into the Recycling Bin won’t do this time. Before recycling your computer, you need to wipe its disk clean permanently.

Yes, permanently.

Windows 8.1 and above, as well as Mac OS X, actually come with utilities that allow you to delete your data safely and reset the computer to its original state.

For Mac, do the following:

  1. Hold down Command + R while it boots
  2. Select Reinstall Mac OS X from the pop-up menu

For Windows 8.1 this is what you should do:

  1. Enter Settings
  2. Go to Change PC Settings
  3. Go to Update And Recovery
  4. Go to Recovery to reveal the Remove everything and reinstall Windows option
  5. Choose Get started
  6. Follow the steps to Fully clean the drive

4. Unplug Peripherals

Unplugging peripherals

You can recycle the peripherals with the same electronics recycling company where you’ll take your computer.

Peripherals can be speakers, external keyboard, external webcam, mouse, etc.

They don’t need a software upgrade to work, so if they aren't damaged, you can also donate them to other people or reuse them with your new machine.

Recycling your laptop is important because if it ends up in a landfill, the problem isn’t solved — it only begins. Electronics that end up in the trash can become a serious environmental and health hazard.

5. Remove the Battery (If Possible)

The electronics recycle center where you mail your computer may have a rechargeable battery recycling program as well. However, you better take the battery out and pack it separately.

Lithium batteries, for example, require certain safety measures before they can be shipped for recycling. Follow these steps:

Battery for a laptop
  1. Tape the battery terminals to eliminate the risk of short-circuiting during transport.
  2. Place the battery in a lined container that prevents metal contact with terminals.
  3. If you can’t remove the battery, make sure the package is padded to prevent damage or accidental activation. 

Read more on recycling lithium batteries here.

Where to Recycle Your Laptop

Recycle laptops with GreenCitizen

You can recycle your laptop by bringing it or mailing it to a reputable electronics recycling company like GreenCitizen that can either repair and reuse it or dismantle it in an environmentally-responsible way.

San Francisco Bay Area residents don’t have to look far. In our effort to make every day Earth Day, GreenCitizen offers free laptop recycling, with every machine or component being reused or recycled safely.

You can avail of our convenient drop offbusiness pickup, or IT Asset Disposition services that help us all stay green.

If you’re outside the San Francisco Bay Area or you're far from our Eco Center in Burlingame you are also welcome to mail in your notebook to us. Check out our mail-in electronics recycling page for more details.

You can also find other electronics recycling centers near you using our Green Directory.

Why Recycle Your Laptop

Recycling your laptop is important because if it ends up in a landfill, the problem isn’t solved — it only begins. Electronics that end up in the trash can become a serious environmental and health hazard.

Electronic devices contain toxic materials like chromium, flame retardants, and lead. [1] These materials have been related to damage to kidneys, blood, and the central nervous system.

Findings from most studies showed increases in spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, and premature births, and reduced birthweights and birth lengths associated with exposure to e-waste.

Kirsten Grant, Researcher, Health Consequences of Exposure to E-Waste, The Lancet

When you throw your electronic notebook with the household trash, those toxic materials can leak into landfills and even reach groundwater or vaporize into the air in landfill fires.

Yet, apart from recycling responsibly, there is another way people can help reduce the amount of electronic waste. After recycling your old computer, instead of ordering a brand new machine, get a refurbished one. [2]

Not only will you pay much less, but you’ll help reduce demand for raw materials. Also, it feels great to salvage a perfectly working computer from being dismantled for scrap.

eBay is a great place to look for refurbished laptops. In fact, GreenCitizen has our own eBay store, where you can find the latest line up of refurbished laptops that work like new.

eBay store of GreenCitizen
GreenCitizen's eBay store has refurbished laptops for sale

You can also check out more high-quality refurbished laptops, desktops, and other computer parts in our Green Store.


Can you recycle laptops for money?

Yes, you can recycle laptops for money. While most recycling companies will recycle your laptop free of charge, there are some, like NextWorth, which recycle electronics but offer cash for your computer. You can also try to sell it in working or broken condition on platforms like Craigslist, Amazon, and eBay.

Should I recycle my laptop?

Yes, you should always recycle your laptop. Apart from non-degradable plastic, computers, cell phones, and other electronic items contain toxic materials which can seep through landfill and contaminate the soil and groundwater. Recycled electronic devices also contain precious metals and other components, like glass, that can be used in a new product.

How to get rid of my old laptop that doesn’t work?

You can either take it or mail it to the nearest electronics recycling center like GreenCitizen. Electronics recycling facilities employ trained staff who can dismantle your notebook safely. Those recycling experts will separate the toxic materials from components that can be recycled or repaired for further use. You can also sell your broken computer for parts, offer it to local donation centers, or avail of the recycling services of Best Buy.

Where should I sell my laptop?

You should sell your laptop at online trading platforms like Amazon, Craigslist, and eBay. Each of these sites has its pros and cons. Craigslist usually works locally and may require you to meet with people face-to-face. Amazon and eBay are global sites but shave a few points off your profits.

Will pawn shops buy laptops?

Yes, pawn shops will buy laptops. Today’s computers are built to become obsolete after 2-3 years, and laptop refurbishing is big business in the pawn world. Dealers buy laptops that they can refurbish and sell for a profit. Bring your old one to the pawnshop and try to negotiate the best price. Keep in mind that pawnbrokers keep a regular tab on current electronics pricing.

Can I trade in my laptop?

Yes, you can trade in your laptop. The prices that come with trade-in programs are generally lower than what you could get for your computer online. Still, a great thing about trade-ins is that you don’t have to negotiate and meet prospective buyers. As a part of their customer service, Amazon, Best Buy and Apple offer gift cards for traded-in notebook, while ItsWorthMore and BuyBackWorld offer cash, as well.

How do I permanently delete everything off my laptop?

You can permanently delete everything off your laptop by using your OS erase and restore option or a third-party disk-cleanup app. Windows 8.1 and Mac OS X have an easy-to-use feature that deletes data permanently so your computer is ready for recycling. For computers with older software, you can use DBAN (Darik's Boot and Nuke) app.


When your laptop becomes too slow or simply breaks down, you can try to sell it, donate it, or turn it in for cash or store credit. Yet, the greenest thing you can do is to make your own Earth Day and have your computer recycled by a trustworthy recycling company like GreenCitizen.

You can drop them off at our EcoCenter in Burlingame or you can mail it in to us. You can also schedule a pickup if you're recycling a large number of laptops.

All electronics, laptops included, that reach the GreenCitizen recycling center in Burlingame are disposed of in an environmentally-friendly way.

If you need a more powerful machine, consider another eco-friendly option and get yourself a refurbished laptop that works just as new from GreenCitizen's eBay store.


  1. https://www.greenbiz.com/article/how-hp-and-dell-are-reducing-toxics-their-electronics
  2. https://store.hp.com/us/en/tech-takes/how-to-recycle-old-computers

Nikola uses his background in electrical engineering to break down complex sustainability topics for GreenCitizen's readers. He is a firm believer in environmental conservation, which he practices daily through recycling and home-grown food. He enjoys hiking, engaging in white-water sports, and collecting pocket knives.

6 Comments on “The Definitive Guide to Laptop Recycling

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