• United States



How to Get Rid of Old Computers

Dec 01, 20053 mins
Data and Information Security

A step by step process for decomissioning and disposing of outdated computer equipment

Phase 1: Predisposition

You have a bunch—maybe thousands—of old computers. Before you decide whether to redeploy, sell or junk them, you must figure out what kinds you have and the most valuable use for them. Some you can resell. Others are good for their parts. And still others can be made into recyclable materials.

Phase 2: Data Destruction

This step is crucial for security purposes. Companies have been burned by the data left on old machines; scavengers have literally taken those computers out of the trash or bought them as used equipment. Hard drive wiping comes in different security levels. The most secure process is the Department of Defense specification wipe, done several times. For even better security, you can wipe data onsite instead of sending the computers out, where they could be intercepted. Degaussing (erasing data from storage media using a demagnetizing electronic current), on the other hand, ensures that no one can retrieve the data. But it also ruins the drive, which must be chopped up for recycling.

Note: Complete data wipes are more secure than less stringent wipes, and therefore cost more.

Phase 3: Asset Decision

Disposition companies can determine the right blend of reuse versus refuse. Redeployment is highly cost-effective, but the asset will have to be relatively new to be useful in a production environment. Many companies redeploy old systems as solid little Linux servers. Resale will yield a little money (or a discount on the cost of disposition if youre paying someone to do it). Donation yields little to no tax benefit if the equipment is more than three years old and fully depreciated. (Lawmakers are trying to change this.) Selling parts also generates money, as long as theres a working hard drive. Hard drives make up two-thirds of the value of an old PC on the resale market. If all else fails, its time to scrap the thing. Make sure you do it right—theres lots of recyclable materials and toxic waste to deal with.

Phase 3: Environmental Disposition

Finally, its time to recycle and dispose. There are more than 40 elements encased in a computer—many of them highly toxic even in the trace amounts in which theyre used—and you must deal with each one. Environmental disposition companies follow a complex process best summed up by this description: Shred, grind, separate. Refine, smelt, melt, pelletize. You will get money for recyclables, but you will also pay money for toxic waste disposal. Improper disposal creates legal (as well as environmental) risk.