Do you have a scary closet at home or work that contains a bunch of stuff that you don’t know what to do with? Whether there are a few old cell phones, an old computer or an outdated PDA, we find ourselves with a growing pile of electronics in need of disposal. Now, think about all of the electronics that you have at work. Everyone seems to have a work computer these days. I’ve seen these “scary closets” all over Vermont. They range in size from a coat closet to a whole basement to pallets of material in a warehouse.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 75% of electronic waste, ready for end of life recycling, either goes out with the trash or sits in storage. In 2009, there were 438 million electronic devices sold. That year, 4.74 billion pounds of electronics was ready for end of life management.
So, what do you do with dead computers and their confidential information?
This is the question that we all face, today. Whether you’re deciding what to do with your old home computer, or you need to recycle 100 computers for your business, what should you do with them?
First of all, don’t throw them in the trash. That’s illegal and puts hazardous waste into our environment.
Secondly, consider if your electronics contain confidential information that needs to be securely disposed, if so, remove it.
Ten years ago, would you have thrown your old tax return into the trash? Probably not, you would have recycled it, at a minimum because this option is better for the environment. Today, would you throw your old tax return into the recycling? Probably not, you would shred it because this option is more secure.
We need to think of our electronics the same way. We’re at a turning point in the way E-waste is disposed. Responsibly recycling your material is an important step, but shouldn’t be your first step. For your protection from identity theft and your business’ compliance, you must first consider the secure disposal of any hard drives, and other electronic storage devices such as backup tapes, DVDs, thumb drives, etc. The recycling risks of these devices are real and extensive as computers can be handled by countless people and companies before they eventually get recycled.
To give you a visual on the data that can be stored on a 500 gigabyte computer hard drive, imagine a storage room filled with approximately 10,000 records storage boxes full of paper. Could you imagine if a Vermont business threw all of these boxes into the trash or recycling stream? In fact, an MIT study showed that 146 of 158 used hard drives purchased on the internet for $1,000 were not properly sanitized and contained a bevy of confidential information such as credit card numbers, medical records and corporate financial records. We don’t know if any of those hard drives originated in Vermont. Today, the vast majority of identity theft occurs with electronic data versus paper. Confidential information is confidential information, regardless of it being on paper or on a hard drive, and it must be properly destroyed.
In order to protect confidential personal and business information and prevent identity theft, the U.S. and Vermont governments have created and enacted laws to help prevent this from happening. These laws have one thing in common; they all require businesses to safeguard consumer confidential information, regardless of its form.
In Vermont, the Vermont E-cycles Program was established in 2011. This program allows free drop-off of certain electronic waste devices for residents, 501c3 charities, school districts and small businesses of ten or fewer employees at convenient locations around the state (www.vtecycles.org).
There are also several companies in Vermont that collect, process and/or store electronics for eventual end-of-life recycling out of state. SecurShred, Vermont’s first certified hard drive and other electronic storage media destruction company, provides services for businesses and individuals throughout the state.
“The security of any personal data or information (such as social security number, tax or banking, business records, or personal identification, etc.) is the sole responsibility of the owner of the electronic device being dropped at a Collection Location for recycling. Don’t simply delete files or reformat your hard drive. This does not destroy all the data.” – Vermont E-cycles
The good news is that electronics recycling is becoming easier and safer for the environment every day. However, the risk of identity theft is now more digital than ever. So before you recycle or donate your old electronics, think about your data on that device because that’s exactly what the identity thieves are thinking about.
David Van Mullen
Certified Secure Destruction Specialist