Sims Recycling says shred it. Don

Simply drilling a hole through an old hard drive destined for recycling won’t assure the confidential data stored on it is no longer retrievable.

That’s one critical mistake that companies make with their end-of-life hardware, said Sebastien Rosner, general manager of Brampton, Ont.-based Sims Recycling Solutions Canada.

“This only destroys two or three per cent of the surface of the disk and the rest of the disk is still intact and information can still be recovered,” said Rosner.

While some recycling service providers use a degausser, a table-top machine with a high-voltage coil that creates a magnetic flow, to wipe hard drives clean of data, there is often not a quality check performed in the aftermath to ensure that the data is in fact gone, he said.

Completely shredding e-waste is really the only way to ensure data is no longer accessible, said Rosner.

Data security is particularly important nowadays, said Rosner, given the amount of information out there about an individual’s life, be it credit card and bank account numbers saved from store and online transactions.

“All this data is stored somewhere onto a server in North America or somewhere in other countries,” said Rosner. “The danger is that information can fall into bad hands, and there are a lot of risks for your own personal privacy.”

In fact, 80 per cent of e-waste in the U.S. ends up in Africa whereupon there is not way of knowing what then happens to it, said Rosner. “People are ready to pay for data. If we don’t destroy it, there are always people buying these kinds of things,” he said.

The potential loss of information and reputation are certainly motivators behind ensuring proper hardware recycling, said Benoit H. Dicaire, with Montreal-based security consultancy Infrax Inc.

The mentality toward e-waste recycling among corporations is improving, said Dicaire, “because they have seen so many horror stories that someone went to a flee market and bought a new PC and are stunned by the information of a well-known enterprise.”

While some companies prefer to use a third party to handle their e-waste, there ought to be some due diligence to verify the vendor’s process and reliability, said Dicaire.

Facilities may not be secure enough to safe keep the large volumes of hardware sitting around waiting to be recycled, he said. Nor do vendors always audit the processes of partners downstream in the recycling process, said Dicaire.

First obtain a reference and then try the vendor out with a small sample of e-waste, advises Dicaire.

Sims Recycling, which operates 340 locations around the world, 37 of which are dedicated to electronics recycling, handles e-waste from an environmentally friendly approach as well, said Rosner.

“It’s a pretty wide range, anything from your PDA, to your cell phone to your PC, photocopiers and anything in between,” he said.

Sims Recycling’s RCMP-approved process entails first removing any hazardous material like toner, ink and the battery. Once it is shredded, the dismembered materials – copper, steel, aluminum, plastics – are mechanically separated based on their physical properties. For instance, steel is separated using a magnet.

Rosner noted that the process is “closed-loop” in that dust generated during dismantling of e-waste is also captured. In the end, all components are sent to downstream vendors, approved and audited, for proper disposal as per Sims Recycling’s standards.

“We recycle anything but the bulb and battery,” said Rosner.

Toronto-based Ontario Electronic Stewardship is trying to make electronics recycling a simpler process for organizations and individuals throughout the province, said Susan Logan, manager of communications with OES.

“OES has in place a logistics to help them recycle,” said Logan.

That process, part of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) program, involves 262 collection points, like Sims Recycling, as well as other services to help with hardware packaging and disposal, said Logan.

While larger organizations often have private arrangements with equipment manufacturers to manage end-of-life hardware, Logan said OES can also work directly with large organizations with their e-waste initiatives.

As for the degree of interest among organizations to properly manage their e-waste, Logan said it is still early in the game but they are working with some businesses.

“I believe we have made great headways in reaching (organizations) and making them aware of their obligation to do this,” said Logan.

While Sims Recycling’s Brampton location primarily services Ontario, Rosner said it does service the Quebec corporate market as well. Material can be shipped from Quebec to the Brampton facility, but there are future plans to open a plant in Quebec, he said.