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February 22, 2008 • Vol.30 Issue 8
Page(s) 26 in print issue

Smart Strategies For Recycling Tapes & Storage Media

Change is certainly a constant in the IT landscape. Tape formats invariably change every couple of years, leading to faster-performing cartridges with greater capacity. Similarly, disk sizes have shifted significantly in recent years.

But that progress leads to a problem for small to midsized enterprises. What do you do with all those old tapes and hard drives? Leaving them to gather dust in a basement or warehouse certainly isn’t the best solution. That can lead to data insecurity.

Here, then, are some important tips concerning how to dispose of old tapes and hard drives.

Old Tapes Have Value

A large number of tape formats have been released over the last decade: DLT (Digital Linear Tape), SuperDLT, LTO (Linear Tape Open), DDS (Digital Data Storage), and 8mm are just a few of the choices. Within those categories, there are various generations, such as LTO-2, -3, and -4. When companies move to a newer tape format, they typically transfer old backups onto the newer form factor. That leaves them with a pile of tapes they have no use for.

Surprisingly, such tapes may have some value to someone. Most commonly, people just don’t know that there is value in their excess or used media.

“It is difficult to actually recycle the individual components of a tape cartridge,” says Russ Hill, director of purchasing and wholesale channel sales for Data Media Source (800/252-9268;, a company that buys used, excess, and obsolete data media. “Most tape, even as old as round reel tape, has some reuse value. In most cases, you can be paid to recycle your tape rather than paying someone to do it.”

Look For A Reputable Vendor

There are plenty of firms out there that are more than happy to take used tapes off your hands. But it is vital you pick one that is willing to comply with your wishes, as well as those of regulatory bodies. Such a firm will provide plenty of visibility into the disposal process and will offer all the evidence you need that your demands have been satisfied.

Choose a reputable firm when selling your tape and ask for references. Take a tour of the facility. Ask about the process from pickup to data destruction.

“The biggest concern is having the data destroyed,” Hill notes. “The company that you choose should offer you security from the time of pickup to the time of data destruction with methods of auditing the process that you are comfortable with.”

Disposing Of Disks & The Data On Them

For removing the data from hard drives, three main options are available:

Degaussing uses powerful magnets to obliterate the data. This does work to remove the data, but it may also adversely affect the other electronic components on the drive, rendering it inoperable.

Overwriting entails repeatedly writing over the entire disk with random 0s and 1s. The usual benchmark companies follow is using the U.S. Department of Defense standard that requires three passes over the disk. This renders the data generally unrecoverable, though it may be possible to get some of it back using special forensic tools.

Shredding is physically destroying the disk by drilling holes in it or literally shredding it.

Companies such as Redemtech ( and World Data Products (800/553-0592; are prepared to do whatever it takes to safely dispose of data.

“We’ll do whatever the company requires of us in terms of data erasure,” says Neil Vill, chief executive officer of World Data Products. “For one company, it may be three passes; for another, it might be drilling holes in the drive; for another, it might be shredding it and providing back the pieces.”

Dumper Beware

Perhaps there may be temptation to ship tapes, hard drives, and even used equipment to the nearest landfill or offload them to an unscrupulous dealer that doesn’t follow environmental regulations. Yet the serial numbers on that media—or the data itself—can lead to legal trouble or embarrassing questions from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That’s why complying with those regulations is crucial in recycling tape or media.

A large portion of U.S. and European computer waste is being sent to countries in Asia and Africa with lax environmental and employee safety regulations. This transfers the toxic burden to third-world countries despite agreements, such as the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, designed to prevent such actions. In addition, IT junk that finds its way to landfills in the third world has been tracked back to the large corporations they came from.

“Compliance with environmental regulations and social responsibility are important,” says Bob Houghton, president of Redemtech. “You don’t want to have to explain why the equipment is showing up in a dump in Pakistan or going to a blast furnace in Canada.”

by Drew Robb

SMART TIP: Adopt A Disposal Policy

According to analyst firm Gartner, 130,000 computers a day were trashed in the United States last year. Another 925 million PCs and 46 million servers will join them in the next five years. That adds up to more than 2 million tons of electronic waste going to landfills every year. That’s an awful lot of hard drives.

An important starting point in company is to develop disposal policy for old IT machinery, as well as for disks and tapes. This sets the stage for corporate responsibility, lays out an exact process for everyone to follow, and can even create greater value for the organization.

“Businesses need to figure out their policy and their plan for disposing of different types of equipment,” says Gartner analyst Frances O’Brien. “It is part of the ongoing cost of business, and they need to plan for it.”

O’Brien continues, “For any type of asset, you need to develop a chain of custody so you know exactly what happened to that asset from the minute you take it out of service to the minute it is disposed of.”

BEST RETURN ON INVESTMENT: Preserve Value By Using An Overwrite Program

While shredding and degaussing provide a more complete destruction of the data on hard drives, both also destroy any potential asset resale value. If you plan to sell your old equipment or return it to your supplier in order to gain a discount on new gear, it may be wiser to use an overwrite program so as to maximize the return on your IT investment.

“Overwrite programs will create a record of the drive serial numbers and the tests verifying the data is no longer accessible,” according to Bob Houghton, president of Redemtech (


When is a deletion not a deletion? Deleting files from the hard drive is often done before donating equipment to charities or otherwise disposing of it. However, that isn't enough to remove any threat. Deleted files, in fact, are easy to recover. Anyone who doubts this just needs to download Undelete from Diskeeper (www to see how easy it is to recover deleted documents.

Corroborating evidence. Confirm that an outsourcer actually destroys data by sending tape to be processed, having it returned, and confirming the data has been destroyed, says Russ Hill, director of purchasing and wholesale channel sales for Data Media Source (800/252-9268;

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