The Bureau of Justice estimates that 10% of Americans age 16 or older fell victim to identity theft in 2016. Believe it or not, if you aren’t taking the correct precautions when you recycle, you could be tempting fate to join this number.

This doesn’t mean you should stop recycling to protect your identity, as you run the same risk if you put items in the garbage or leave them around the house. Instead, you want to take a few extra steps before recycling certain products.


These days, our phones and computers store all kinds of data, including bank accounts, credit card information, and social security numbers. We upgrade our phones and computers every few years, and no longer need the old hardware in our lives. But what about all the secure information still stored on these products?

The true answer is there’s no way to permanently erase confidential information on your own. Even formatted drives can be recovered, so the only way to ensure protection is to destroy the information. As a result, most electronics recyclers offer a Certificate of Destruction when accepting computer products, to provide you with peace of mind.

Here’s a few tips for how to securely recycle electronics:

  1. Convince your company to sponsor an electronics recycling event partnered with an e-Stewards or R2/RIOS recycler, allowing employees to bring in products. That way, your company is underwriting the costs to have your information destroyed securely.
  2. If option #1 isn’t viable, remove the hard drive from your computer/laptop or SIM card from your cell phone before recycling these products. A recycler will still accept and recycle the rest of these products, and you can either retain the memory device or destroy it.


Think about all the mail you receive with financial information: bills, tax documents, and even credit card solicitations. You are likely recycling this alongside your newspaper, magazines, and cardboard boxes.

The easiest way to prevent identity theft when recycling mail is to shred these documents. The problem is that shredding significantly reduces the value of the paper fiber, meaning some recyclers won’t accept shredded paper. Here are a few other ways to safely recycle mail with personal information:

  1. See if your community hosts a shredding event, where you can bring documents to be destroyed and recycled. In these cases, the recycling partner is able to process shredded paper.
  2. Use a marker to black out your personal information, including names and numbers.


First off, it’s worth debunking a common myth that medications are recyclable. They aren’t (you can’t make a new product out of them), so what you are looking for when properly disposing of them is a way to keep them out of the water supply and the wrong hands.

With medication containers, the concern is that they contain your name and medical information. If a thief gets hold of your empty medication containers, they can be used to steal your medical identity and falsify information. This could include having the prescription re-filled and billed to your insurance.

Here’s how to safeguard your medical identity:

  1. Take your medications to one of the DEA collection events run by law enforcement offices. The DEA only operates a handful of local events per year, but many sheriff’s offices will accept medications year-round.
  2. If you want to recycle an empty medication container, black out your information or remove the label entirely.

All of these products should be recycled or properly disposed of, but you don’t want to lose your identity in the process. A few extra minutes before you recycle can prove invaluable in the long run.

By Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.