BoomerTECH Adventures; Preparing your digital devices for sale, donation or recycling

A mid-1990s Macintosh computer sits in a box Saturday during an e-waste collection at the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

BoomerTECH Adventures guide Ed Brazee recently shared some great options for tackling the e-waste challenge from discarded digital devices. Getting credit for a new phone by turning in your old phone, donating a working computer to a good cause, or leaving your non-working hardware at a community recycling center will help take the strain off our landfills. But before you part with your personal electronic devices, it’s important to make sure that all stored personal information is permanently deleted or erased. Sometimes it’s not as simple as deleting unwanted files. And that often depends on the type of device you’re trying to clean. Crooks can use programs designed to recover data lost due to technological problems or accidents. So you’ll want to make sure your personal information is truly erased from your phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops. In this article, we will focus on Apple devices. Keep in mind that the processes described can be adapted for other manufacturers with a little online research.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Be absolutely sure to back up any information you want to keep before deleting it from the device you are decommissioning. Data can be stored online through services such as Apple iCloud, Google Drive, Amazon Drive or any other cloud-based storage. Apple iCloud and Amazon Drive provide 5 gigabytes of free storage and Google Drive allows 15 gigabytes at no cost. More options can be found by searching online using the terms “cloud storage”. You can also back up data using an external hard drive connected to your device. Make sure there is enough disk capacity to store your information.

Permanently erasing all of your information from a device is called data sanitization. The three classes of data cleansing are delete, purge, and destroy. The type used depends on the type of device to be cleaned and the methods used. Small devices such as mobile phones, copiers and small USB sticks are disinfected by “Clearing”. This is usually accomplished by following the manufacturer’s instructions to restore the device to its factory settings “in the box”. Wiping data from cell phones and tablets is also known as hard reset which deletes all files, apps, personal information, browsing history and passwords.

To perform a hard reset with Apple iPhones and iPads, start by going to Settings, then select General, then tap Reset, then choose Erase All Content and Settings. You will then need to enter your password and tap Erase Phone. Once the process is complete, the phone will reboot without any of your personal information or files.

The process of erasing Android devices differs slightly between different manufacturers. Android phones follow this general progression starting with the Settings app: Backup & reset > Factory data reset > Reset device > Erase everything.

If you have a Windows phone, start with Settings, select About, then tap Reset phone. We recommend that all other small digital devices such as printers, USB sticks and routers be factory or hard reset before passing them on. The easiest way to learn how to do this is to do an internet search with the make and model of the device along with the term “factory reset”.

Disinfecting data from laptop or desktop computers and hard drives is called purging. This is accomplished by erasing everything, removing the operating system (OS), and reinstalling the operating system. This is called a clean install. If you have an Apple computer or laptop, you need to sign out of any iServices account. To do this, go to Preferences by clicking on the small apple icon at the top left of your screen and select System Preferences. To sign out of iCloud, click the Apple ID icon on newer Macs (Catalina and newer), click Overview, then click Sign Out. On older Macs, click the iCloud icon, then select Sign Out. To sign out of iTunes, open the Music app on newer computers or iTunes on older ones (Mojave or earlier). Select Accounts from the menu at the top and click Deauthorize this computer. Enter your Apple ID and password, then click Cancel Authorization. To sign out of Messages, open the Messages app and select Preferences. In the pop-up window, select the iMessage icon, then click the Sign Out button. Now turn off your computer. It is now ready to be disinfected by purging your information.

Restart your computer in recovery mode by holding down the Command and R keys until the Apple logo appears. You can then release the keys while it finishes starting up and the Utilities window appears. Now click on Disk Utilities and select Reinstall MacOS. Click Continue, then View and View All Devices. Select your hard drive and click Erase. If you have High Sierra OS or newer OS, select Format APFS. If you have Sierra or older, select the Mac OS Extended (Journaled) option. Click Clear. (Remember, this is not reversible!) The erasing process will take several minutes. Once complete, you can reinstall the operating system by clicking Continue. Once the installation is complete, simply turn off the computer and the new owner can configure it with their personal information.

Newer Macbooks with Monterey and newer operating systems have a much simpler process to purge data that is similar to iPhone and iPad devices. It can be found by selecting the Preferences setting and selecting Erase Content and Settings. Simply follow the options to prepare your computer for sale, donation or recycling. Even if you don’t have an Apple computer, you can find out how to sanitize yours by searching the Internet for the name and model plus the words “hard reset” or “factory reset.”

If you can’t or don’t want to go through the process of cleaning or purging your old device, the last option is to destroy it by rendering it unusable. This can be done by physically removing the drive and electronics and breaking them into pieces (wearing proper protective gear, of course!). You can also drill holes in the hard drive. Leftover parts should be taken to a recycling center to keep plastics and metals out of the environment.

For more tips and information to make your digital life easier, visit BoomerTECH Adventures at Subscribe to our YouTube channel for lots of free video tutorials at

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