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safe recycling
Posted on November 13, 2015 by in Identity & Privacy, Personal

The concept of recycling has been around for centuries, but the U.S. didn’t start making it a priority until the 1970s. However, even with all of the reducing, reusing, and recycling our country seems to be doing, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 75% of the American waste stream is recyclable — and we only choose to recycle about 30% of it.

In honor of America Recycles Day, which takes place on November 15th, we wanted to do our part to not just encourage recycling, but safe recycling.

When I say “safe,” I’m not inferring that recycling is something that can cause physical harm. But recycling personal possessions without protecting your private information and identity? That is dangerous.

Here’s how to recycle electronics, papers, and other common items and materials — without setting someone up to recycle your identity as well!

  • Documents, mail, or other papers – How many times have you picked up stray papers around your house and then tossed them in the recycling bin? As tedious as it may seem, you really need to give all documents, letters, and pieces of mail a second look before sending them off for recycling. If anything has your name or sensitive information (like social security number, birthday, credit card number, etc.), those documents should be shredded immediately. Shredding is one of the easiest and most effective ways to help prevent identity theft. Once those papers have been taken care of, you can still recycle the shreds — without worrying about identity thieves picking through your recycling bin.
  • iPhones and other smartphones – With new iterations of smartphones coming out all the time, a lot of us have quite the collections of abandoned phones. Many companies, including Apple, offer recycling programs where you can send your old devices in (sometimes for trade or cash). However, the most important thing to remember before getting rid of your old phone is to remove all personal information. Think of all the phone numbers, voicemails, e-mails, texts, and apps you may have on your old device — do you really want to make that available to the next person who turns on the phone? Begin with a factory reset, which will usually wipe everything off of your old phone and return it to the factory settings (the way it was when you first bought it). Also, if your phone has a SIM card or SD card, make sure you remove or erase it.
  • Computers – Old electronics are beginning to fill our nation’s landfills, so if you have a computer you want to get rid of, recycling it is an extremely responsible way to go. Before you do anything, don’t forget to remove anything from the computer that you want to keep. Save all your important files by backing them up to an external hard drive or transferring them to a new computer. Once you have retrieved everything you want to keep, you need to wipe your computer’s hard drive clean. Doing this can be a bit more complicated than a simple factory reset on your smartphone, but Techlicious has a list of helpful instructions that tell you how to clean your computer out before recycling.
  • Cars – We don’t always think of recycling cars, but it is definitely an option if you have a vehicle that you won’t be able to (or just don’t want to) sell. Before recycling your car, however, you need to remember to erase every trace of your personal information from the vehicle. Remove every single thing from the car — especially personal documents that could be in the glove box or under seats. Once you are sure your car has been cleaned out, visit the Automotive Recyclers Association website to learn more about recycling your car responsibly.

Doing your part to safely recycle and reduce the amount of waste on the planet is extremely admirable, and it’s just one of the many ways to help prevent identity theft. Just remember that for every person working to do good in this world, there’s another person waiting for them to slip up so they can steal their identity. Your personal information is precious — don’t leave it in the recycling bin for thieves to get their hands on.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Timothy Takemoto.