Electronic waste (e-waste) is a multi-million metric ton (Mt) problem around the world. For starters, the world produced 53.6 million Mt of it in 2019 alone. That’s a 21% increase from the generated e-waste back in 2014.
While e-waste refers to any discarded electronics, many of them are those the IT industry uses. These include unused, unwanted, or old computer hardware, telecommunications devices, and related accessories.
So, no matter how small your company is, so long as it relies on IT, it will generate e-waste. E-waste disposal, in turn, is a legislated process in the US, at least in 25 states.
That’s enough reason for your company to have a proper policy for the safe disposal of computers.
To that end, we came up with this guide listing the dos (and don’ts) of computer hardware disposal. Read on so that you can derive some insights and use them for your company’s policies.
Retrieve and Back-up Company Files
A survey revealed that 42% of organizations experienced downtime-causing data loss in 2020. Over four in 10 institutions also said they lost productivity or revenues.
Many of those cases occurred due to a lack of data backup procedures. After all, the same survey found that only 26% of organizations created daily back-ups. One in 10 didn’t even have any backups created.
Now, you may be wondering why you’d even need to create backups of old files in outdated computers. A good enough reason is that many types of records hold their validity for three to seven years. That includes components of your company’s tax returns, such as income and deductions.
Old IT devices may also house records of clients, suppliers, and partners. You may still need these documents as proof of your transactions with them.
So, before you discard your old company tech, have all their data backed up first. Your IT department should perform this task for you. If you don’t have IT personnel, you can outsource the backup creation to a managed IT service provider.
Wipe Their Storage Slate Clean
In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission received a total of 444,344 identity theft case reports. The following year, that number jumped to a staggering 650,523 cases. Then came 2020, in which the reports skyrocketed by more than three-fold to reach 1,387,615 cases.
All that proves how identity thieves are becoming more active and rampant in the US. What’s more, these criminals also target discarded computer hardware. They can steal personal and financial data from intact hard drives and storage media.
Now, keep in mind that even the most outdated company hardware can contain sensitive info. Criminals can then harvest all that data so long as the storage drive doesn’t have any damage.
As such, you must wipe clean outdated technology after you back up their data. After this, you can delete all the data and then reset the hardware to its factory settings. Don’t hand it over to anyone unless you’re certain you got rid of all traces of data in its storage drive.
Consider Donating Old But Working Computers
What’s old and outdated to your company’s IT department may still be of use to others. For example, many households have limited or even no access to computers at all. In the US, more than four million households with children meet this category.
With that said, consider donating company computers to those who are in dire need of them. Your local community centers can connect you to potential recipients. They may also help you find reputable non-profit, charitable organizations accepting electronics.
Before making any donations, though, make sure the devices are still usable. They should be able to last for at least a year, as you don’t want to give away something that will break down right away.
Destroy Storage Media Before Recycling
For old IT devices that you can’t or won’t donate, you must physically destroy their storage media. Disintegration, incineration, melting, and pulverization are some of these media sanitization methods. If you don’t have the tools needed for these methods, hire a certified recycling company.
Note that there are only two accredited recycling certification standards in the US. One is the Responsible Recycling Standard for Electronics Recyclers, also known as R2. The other is the e-Stewards Standard.
Recyclers certified by either standard follow electronic data destruction protocols. They also meet stringent environmental standards for the safe management of e-waste.
Many certified recyclers also handle the disposal of non-storage media. For example, some of them offer computer monitor recycling services. Others also deal with peripheral devices, such as keyboards, speakers, mice, and printers.
Battery-operated computers use nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal hydride, or lithium-ion batteries. You can’t just throw these in the waste bin, as they can be particularly harmful.
For starters, nickel, cadmium, and lithium are all forms of heavy metals. Moreover, they can be toxic, causing adverse health effects and endangering the environment. Under certain conditions, they may also spark and cause severe and dangerous fires.
For the same reasons, most municipal waste collectors don’t accept such devices.
As such, recycling such devices requires the removal of the batteries first. Then, you need to cover their terminals with electrical tape to prevent leakage. Next, be sure to place them in individual dry containers.
You can then contact a certified battery recycler for proper battery disposal. As for the devices’ remnants, a certified computer recycler can take care of them for you.
Be Responsible When Disposing of Old Computer Hardware
Always keep in mind that old computer hardware can pose health, safety, and security risks. The last thing you want is to experience or cause any of these threats.
So, for your company’s, clients’, and the planet’s safety, make sure you dispose of old IT devices properly. This way, you can also do your part in reducing the ever-growing mountains of e-waste.
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