and better ways to dispose of electronics waste
by (c) 2003 First published in
Business in Vancouver
, Issue #703 April 15-21, 2003 High
Tech Office column
pace of change has slowed, at home and at work many of us are on our
third or fourth generation of personal computer. What happens to that
hardware when the new (or at least newer) model shows up on your desk?
organizations, older, less powerful systems are passed down an
informal pecking order, eventually reaching the bottom. Eventually,
systems get stashed away in closets or basements. Or they may be
offered to staff, donated to schools or non-profits (contact Computers
for Schools: http://www.cfsbc.ca),
sold to a second-hand computer dealer like PC Galore or simply
thrown in the dumpster.
No matter what
plan to do with that old PC, make sure it no longer contains any of
your data! Too often, this isn't being done and hard drives and
complete systems are floating around filled with personal and business
data. Recently, a pair of MIT grad students published the
results of a study where they purchased 159 used drives from a variety
of sources. They found more than half contained the previous owner's
data, ranging from hospital information to corporate memos. One in four
drives contained credit card numbers. One drive apparently came from
an ATM machine.
drives on your surplus systems takes only a few minutes and will hide
your data from casual snooping. Be aware that unformatting utilities
can be used to make at least some of your data re-appear, though often
in fragmentary form. A more secure - though more time consuming -
method is to use software such as the WipeInfo program included
with Symantec's Norton Utilities or Systemworks.
repeatedly overwrites the data area of your drives with a random
pattern of zeros and ones.
keep your computers and other electronics gear out of the trash. These
systems contain heavy metals like lead and cadmium that over time
leach out and pollute the water table.
no standardized way to deal with electronics at the end of their life
cycle. An estimated 50 per cent to 80 per cent of old systems are
shipped to Asia, where they are stripped down to retrieve the metals.
In the process of getting at tiny quantities of gold and copper,
cables and circuit boards are burnt or treated with acid, damaging
both workers' health and the environment. In the name of recycling,
North Americans are exporting their waste.
are appearing, however. Last July, HP Canada started to pick up
all brands of computers, printers, scanners and the like from home and
business users. These are evaluated for reuse and where possible,
donated to Computers for Schools. If it is not reusable, the equipment
goes to one of several North American facilities run by Noranda.
A fee ranging from $20 to $52 covers costs and does not generate
profit for HP (http://www.hp.ca/recycle).
In addition to facilities in California and Tennessee, this summer
Noranda is opening a recycling plant in Brampton, Ontario with
capacity to process a million pounds of electronic waste a month.
Product Stewardship Canada (http://www.epsc.ca)
notes that Canadians disposed of 34,000 tons of 'information
technology waste' in 1999, a figure expected to double by 2005. The
industry association is pressuring for provincial and ultimately
Canada-wide standards for disposal of computers and electronic items.
able to work with existing municipal recycling programs, with a
disposal fee tacked onto the price of new electronics hardware going
to cover costs.
(If you are
an older computer, please try to include the documentation for the
operating system licensing. Without it, the recipient may be forced to
purchase yet another copy of Windows.)