Technology Disposal: What You Don’t Know Could Cost You

Over the past several years, technology has continued to evolve at a fevered pace. Each and every day, companies release new products and technologies. Moreover, with the release of one new product comes the end of life for another product. In most cases, items such as desktops, laptops, cell phones and televisions are replaced by leading edge models despite having some useful life remaining. As a result, a large amount of electronic waste, or ewaste, is generated. How a business handles the disposal of these items is a significant issue.

The average computer monitor contains roughly six pounds of lead.

Ewaste contains a range of hazardous materials from lead and mercury to chromium, cadmium and beryllium. Did you know that the average computer monitor contains roughly six pounds of lead? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, ewaste accounts for around two percent of America’s garbage in landfills, but 70 percent of all toxic garbage. As a result of these numbers, many state and federal laws have been established that carry substantial financial and criminal penalties for violations.

The actions below will help you to properly dispose of or recycle ewaste.

SEGREGATE and store all electronic items in operational and non-operational groups.

Ewaste Disposal
  1. Segregate items into operational and non-operational groups.
  2. Record Model and serial number.
  3. Complete a Transfer of Ownership form.
  4. Remove all hard drives and other data storage devices.
  5. Make sure the recycler operates under strict environmental controls.

Some operational equipment can be reused by non-profit or charity organizations, while non-operational equipment can be immediately recycled.

Be sure to RECORD the model and serial number of all items to be recycled or donated.

It is important to keep record of where your equipment goes upon leaving your operation. In the event your equipment ends up in a landfill and the authorities trace it back to your organization, you need to be able to prove that you acted responsibly and according to the law. If you donated the equipment to a charity or sent it to a recycler, that organization assumed responsibility over those materials and their handling.

If possible, complete a TRANSFER of ownership form in which the recycler or non-profit organization acknowledges receipt and responsibility over your electronic items.

REMOVE all hard drives and other data storage devices which may contain sensitive or personal data. These devices must be thoroughly cleaned of all data by software which meets industry standards, such as the Department of Defense 5220-M Security standard. Most fee-based technology recycling services will remove hard drives for you and either physically destroy the devices (shredding) or clean the drives according to industry standards. For the do-it-yourself enthusiast, one good free program is Eraser, available at Download the software and follow the instructions from the Web site. Also, PC Inspector emaxx is free at Drive Scrubber is around $30 at

To remove a hard drive from a desktop system, follow these four steps:
  1. Open the case.
  2. Identify the hard drive. It’s usually 3.5 inches wide and encased in metal and plastic. Also, hard drives do not have openings or drawers like floppy and CD drives.
  3. Disconnect the power and motherboard connections from the drive.
  4. Remove the drive from the case.
In the end, you can recycle your equipment with peace of mind knowing that your data cannot be recovered.

Interview the organization that is accepting responsibility over your goods. It is your responsibility to MAKE SURE that the recycler is operating under strict and specific environmental controls in order to avoid penalties. Research the organization on the Web. Ask for references and speak with current customers regarding their experience with the vendor. If at all possible, visit the facility, speak with the manager, and review their processes. Simply put, if you do your homework, you will be less likely to incur fines and negative publicity.

With today’s society focused on the environment and the multitude of new laws, it is important to note that just one violation could have a massive financial impact on your organization. Spend the extra time to dispose of your equipment properly so that your organization is not tomorrow’s headline story.

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Rob Mathews Meet the Author
Rob Mathews is a network engineer at OKI Bering, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, and on the Web at