Disposing of Old Computer Equipment

By on Jul 26, 2012

I recently received this question from an agency:

“Our agency does not have written guidelines for the preparation or disposal of used PCs. I think we should have one, and it seems to me all agencies would have this same issue but I’ve not heard anything about this topic. Have you looked into this or written about it that I could reference? If not, do you know of suggested guidelines and software we could use?”

With today’s legal requirements, it is prudent to make sure you destroy any data on all storage devices prior to disposing of the item. Following are some suggestions:

Erasing Data

Computer Hard Drives: The method used to erase data off of a hard drive before giving the computer away depends on the information you want to preserve. Your options are:

File-by-File
If you are giving the computer to someone else, you may not want to eliminate all the valuable software along with your private information. However, just deleting your personal files does not make them unrecoverable. To completely destroy a file, you must use a data-shredding program. It takes a conventional “erase” a step further by actually writing over the file.

Whole-Drive
Completely reformatting your drive may seem like a good option, but this method doesn’t eliminate data either — the information can easily be restored using off-the-shelf data recovery software. Many of the best data erasing programs come from the same companies that produce data recovery software. Set aside some time: This can take hours on large hard drives.

Power Tools
There is no better way to completely annihilate your data than to physically destroy the device that stores it. We still suggest a software shredder first, but if your personal data security justifies the extra effort, put on protective eyewear and gloves and break out the power tools. Drilling four holes through the platters will ensure that they never spin properly again. Better yet, unscrew and remove the top lid of the drive, and go at the platters with a sander or angle grinder. Scuff the surface of the platters until all the shine is gone.

Flash Drives: Flash drives are different than hard drives. It has been found that various methods to wipe data off of a flash drive are unreliable. I recommend taking a hammer to the drive. You want to make sure you smash the circuit board and chips.

Cell Phones: Modern cell phones are like computers; deleting data using menus may not truly delete it from the hardware. Always wipe your phone by deleting the data using menu settings and then performing a factory reset. Every phone has a different process, so check the phone’s manual to restore the phone to its factory settings, or search YouTube for an instructional video. According to PCWorld, no wipe solution is perfect. The only way to totally guarantee old cell phone data is gone for good is to take the phone apart and physically destroy the memory chip.

Physical Disposal

Non-Profit
After making sure all sensitive information is wiped from the device, you may want to consider giving it to a local non-profit organization. Although, be aware that many organizations have become more selective about what devices they will accept.

Recycling
Check with your local city or county. Many have computer recycling programs. In my county, all you need to do is take your equipment to a special recycling center.

Following are some additional resources:

Has your company found an effective method of e-waste disposal? Do you have a formal policy? Let me know by sending me a comment below.

3 Comments

  1. We give it to the guy that shreds our paper. The shredder in their truck is strong enough to cut them up. I carry them to his truck and toss them in.

  2. Our policy is to remove the hard drives, save them till we have an envelope box full, then call Cintas to come and destroy them. Any other parts worth saving are removed from the computer, cleaned, bagged, tagged and stored (I learned this part from Barry Klein via TAAReport I believe). I always keep the old computer aside for 3 months before doing this though, just in case I didn’t move something over to the new computer that I should have.

  3. I found out the Staples will recycle most old technology for free, but there are some items they won’t take in. Here’s a link to the page on their website that explains it in greater detail:

    http://www.staples.com/sbd/cre/marketing/easy-on-the-planet/recycling-and-eco-services.html

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