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Can We Make IT Recycling Easier?

Every year, I generate a small pile of dead or obsolete computer-related stuff: laptops that have exceeded their manufacturer's recommended dosage of coffee; hard drives; towers from outdated systems; the inevitable dead desktop printer (HP seems to have that "18 months and then it dies" thing down to a science with their Deskjets); and so on. I could just dump everything in the trash (and I admit that I've sometimes done that), but the whole idea of such waste has always irked me. What bothers me so much about tossing away computer-related equipment? Several things, two of which I've got space for this month.

Reason 1: Erasing Hard Drives Is a Pain
As we all know, erasing data from hard drives is a time-consuming, onerous task. Yes, I know, I could plug an unwanted drive into an external enclosure, hook it up to a PC, and run

cipher /w:

But Cipher seems to chew up a lot of CPU time and wall-clock time. As a result, I've got a big box full of drives that I'm going to do something to eventually. I saw a piece on a morning news show recently in which a "PC expert" claimed that the best way to decommission a drive while keeping your data safe is to drill a hole through the drive platter. So, he placed the hard drive on the table, held it down with one hand, and used a power drill with the other hand to "ventilate" the drive. I do not recommend this procedure unless your hands are as steady and powerful as a metal vice grip—one slip and, well, you get my drift.

So, how can we make recycling drives easier? In my case, at least, those drives are in that box either because I removed them from a working system when I replaced the old drives with newer, larger drives, or because they were from discarded systems, meaning in both cases that the unwanted drives usually still work—it's just that they're too small. I've often wondered why someone couldn't build a drive enclosure that could accommodate some arbitrary number of drives and that contains just enough circuitry to accomplish RAID 5. Thus, you could just pop your leftover IDE, SATA, or whatever drives into this box, and the box would offer either a SATA or SAS interface, allowing you to put your old drives to work to collectively provide some cheap, data-corrected storage. Sure, the drives are old and might fail regularly, but RAID-ing them would mean your data would be safe.

Reason 2: Circuit Boards + Landfills = Not Safe
The idea that a circuit board would find its way into a landfill gives me the willies. I say that because I made the mistake of reading an article back in the early '70s about what goes into circuit boards, and what rainwater can leech out of a discarded circuit board: arsenic, copper, germanium, lead (solder contains it), selenium, and the like—all in all, a host of unpleasant things that I wouldn't want to find in my morning tea, particularly when I wouldn't know that it was there in the first place. And don't think that pitcher you keep in the refrigerator with the heavily marketed water filter will clean much more than your conscience—though I am told that the more expensive reverse- osmosis filtration systems will do the job. (Did I mention that I get my water from a well?)

What, then, can we do with our old circuit boards? Well, "Motherboard Gifts and More" ( offers a line of jewelry made out of recycled circuit boards—bless them—but I don't think they can absorb our annual output. An Internet search of firms that offer to recycle the toxic compounds out of circuit boards yields an awfully large crop of 404s, leading me to believe that dealing with old circuit boards might not be something that "the market" will take care of. Well, then, here's an idea for the Obama administration: If the Second Depression continues for another year or so, why not consider setting up some sort of CCC/WPA-like tech recycle program? It would have proper protection for the employees, of course!

But hey, we're just getting started. Join me next month for more tech-recycling ideas.

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