Reaching behind shoes and file folders, I grope around my closet until I find what I’m looking for: a Toshiba Satellite laptop. I’d owned it since 1991, and hadn’t used it in 15 years. It had moved with me into and out of apartments, condos and townhouses in four different states. I kept meaning to recycle it, but anytime I looked into my options—such as a retail chain store with an electronic recycling program, or my local county’s household hazardous material disposal site—I came across disclaimers warning people to first clear the hard drive of personally identifiable information.
Hard drive? I’d heard the term before, but where was it exactly? And how does one erase it? For sure erase it? Over and over, I’d tell myself I would take the time to figure it out. One day. Now, that day is here. Dusting off my Toshiba, I walk into my home office and slip my hand underneath my bookshelves in search of a second laptop, a Gateway Solo (last used in 1999). In the car, my two laptops, plus some old cords and battery packs, are piled on the passenger’s seat. I head to Capitol Heights, Maryland, and when I reach Olive Street, I scan the line of warehouse doors until I see the one with the picture of a flying turtle.
Elizabeth Wilmot, founder and owner of Turtle Wings/Data Killers, started her environmental services company in 2005. It recycles tech trash in addition to providing data destruction services. Inside the warehouse, there are tidy rows of monitors, printers, cords, cameras, mainframes, fax machines and other miscellaneous equipment. Good parts are refurbished and resold, or they’re stripped to a component level. “Everything from the copper in a cord to ribbon wire can be reused and kept out of landfills,” Wilmot says.