Dumping old disks safely

Think you can just chuck those used disks in the garbage? Think again. This tip outlines how to properly dispose of disk to stay within environmental and governmental guidelines.

Your hot new 2 GB/sec SAN has just passed all its acceptance tests. Now you're left with an operational SAN and

a pile of old computer equipment that your organization can't use any more. What do you do with it?

Increasingly, you can't just throw your equipment in the trash. More and more states and cities are classifying computer equipment as hazardous waste and imposing severe restrictions on its disposal – and even more severe penalties on companies that just throw it away.

While most of the attention has focused on CRTs, all parts of computer systems contain hazardous substances that governments at all levels are trying to keep out of landfills. In the case of storage devices, the hazards include lead, from solder, to cadmium, from rechargeable batteries. All of this material has the potential to leach out of landfills in significant quantities.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set a threshold of 100 kilograms per month of hazardous waste, including computer equipment. Since that is about four to six RAID arrays, that threshold is low enough to catch many businesses. More than 100 kilograms a month has to be declared as hazardous waste and sent to an approved disposal facility for such waste. In addition to the EPA rules, there are a host of state and local rules that must be observed. Some landfills will not accept computer equipment from businesses, period.

There are several options for dealing with used computer equipment. Often the company that sold you the new system will take the old one off your hands. Unlike getting rid of a used car, they typically won't pay you anything for obsolete equipment and they may even charge you to take it away, but it still gets it off your hands.

One of the most attractive options is to donate it to a school or other organization. This can be done either directly or by donating it to a charity that will refurbish the equipment before passing it on. This is somewhat more difficult with storage equipment than it is with desktop computers because there are fewer places that need something like a RAID array or a 1GB SAN. However schools are often eager for this equipment.

Another alternative is to use a company such as NewTech Recycling or Back Thru The Future which will dismantle the equipment, recycle what they can and dispose of the rest properly.

Often such companies will take title to the equipment so that the ownership, and most of the responsibility for disposal, passes to them. Your state environmental agency is likely to have a list of approved donation points and recycling companies.

Storage professionals who deal with hardware need to be aware of the enterprise's policy on disposing of used equipment and hazardous waste.

About the author
Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last twenty years he has been a freelance writer specializing in storage and other computer issues.
This was first published in June 2004

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