There are three options: take it to a recycling facility (the dump), sell it or give it away. We’ll look at these in turn and then explain how to delete all your data from the hard drive.
How to dispose of a laptop or PC: Recycle it
Back in 2007, the WEEE directive came into force. You’ve probably not given it one thought since it was all over the news back then, but these days electronics aren’t simply dumped in land fill.
In theory you should be able to return electrical or electronic devices to the shop where you bought them, but that’s easier said than done if you bought your laptop online.
The easiest thing to do is to take the computer to your local recycling facility; you can check your council’s website to find out where that is. You can also search on Recycle-More to find local recycling centres. It should then be sent on to a specialist dismantler which will extract any toxic substances from the machine before shredding it or recycling any reusable parts.
What you can’t do is to put a laptop or PC in your household waste. Plus, laptops obviously have batteries which need to be disposed of responsibly. Recycling centres should have dedicated battery sections for precisely this reason.
How to dispose of a laptop or PC: Freecycle it
If you’re feeling generous, or you don’t think your old laptop or PC is worth much, you can give away a working computer to someone who would benefit from it. You might know someone, but if not, sign up to your local Freecycle group. Freecycle isn’t the only organisation which facilitates recycling though. You could try Freegle, Gumtree, or the official government site www.recyclenow.com
Simply advertise your laptop or PC and you’ll quickly get responses from individuals willing to take it off your hands, right from your front door.
How to dispose of a laptop or PC: Sell it
Even if you get only a few pounds for your old laptop, it’s a bit of cash towards a new one (or a shiny tablet).
Again, Gumtree is a great place to advertise as it’s completely free to sell a computer. Just be careful and ensure that you don’t post anything out before receiving payment and, if you’re doing the deal on your doorstep, that the cash is genuine.
The safest place to sell is ebay. This also has the largest audience, but it will also cost you around 15-20 percent of the sale price in fees (by time you’ve factored in PayPal fees and the fact that ebay now takes a 10 percent cut of the postage and packing charge as well as the final sale price).
You can also get cash quickly by using an online valuation tool such as Laptops Direct's scheme which offers up to £300.
How to dispose of a laptop or PC: Personal data
There could be a terrifying amount of sensitive personal data stored on your laptop or PC’s hard drive. Passwords, bank account numbers, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and a whole lot more including browsing histories, bookmarks and photos.
As long as you control access to your PC while you're still using it, this is fine. It's when you decide to dispose of it that it can become a real worry. In fact, dumping old PCs and hard disks is a data-security nightmare.
Fortunately it’s easy to delete your data. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that emptying the Windows Recycle Bin will do the job. It won’t. Also, a quick format of your hard disk won’t remove the data.
What you need is a dedicated secure erase program, such as Eraser. Our step-by-step guide explains how to use this free utility to permanently delete the data.
You could alternatively remove the hard drive from the laptop or PC and physically destroy it, but this means you can’t sell or give away your computer in a working state.
It's worth fishing out the original restore discs that came with your laptop and using them to return the PC to the state it came out of the factory. This may be on a hidden hard disk partition. You'll find more information in our How to factory reset a laptop guide.
How to dispose of a laptop or PC: choose a new laptop, PC or tablet
Now you’re rid of your old computer, you’re probably looking for a replacement. Well, look no further than our roundups of the best laptops, PCs and tablets: