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Improve Your Existing Reuse and Recycle Program: Three Keys to Building a Successful Program

Improve Your Existing Reuse and Recycle Program: Three Keys to Building a Successful Program

by Brett Kelly, CEO , PowerON

Reverse Logistics Magazine, Edition 96

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Corporate environmental responsibility must be a priority for every company in today’s business climate. It’s critical for companies to embrace sustainability by following laws, guidelines and policies that promote reduced, minimal, or no harm to ecosystems or the environment. Companies may have long standing environmental policies, but even those leading mature programs are constantly searching for ways to improve.

A core tenet of any company’s environmental responsibility duty must be a reuse and recycle program. The program might be managed by an internal team within the company or a third-party environmental partner, selected based on specific criteria set forth by company. It’s not necessarily about who manages the program, but more about the details of the program.

Let’s examine three keys to building a successful reuse and recycle program.

1. Data destruction standards change, stay current.
All companies adopt standards to establish a level of quality or use them to measure in comparative evaluations. Standards for data security are no different.

Today there are countless data destruction, data wiping, and data erasure standards for the secure removal of sensitive information from hard drives, removable media, LUNs (logic unit number) and other storage devices. Stringent standards for these procedures are determined by government agencies and private institutes throughout the world. See chart below.

With such a long list, a person might wonder, is one better than another and why are some single pass while others are multiple pass erasure methods?

Over the past several years, the National Institute for Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Special Publication 800-88: Guidelines for Media Sanitization has become the true world reference for data erasure compliance. The standard was originally issued in 2006 and revised in 2012, SP 800-88 outlines the preferred methodologies for wiping hard drives and other media under Minimum Sanitization Recommendations in Appendix A. These methods include both over-writing and Secure Erase, a protocol built into the hard drive. This document has replaced the DoD standard in terms of regulatory and certification practice.

The intent of the NIST document is to provide meaningful guidelines for sanitizing electronic media. In actual practice, most commercial data wiping software and hardware products reliably deliver the technology to erase hard drives beyond the possibility of reasonable forensic recovery and to comply with mainstream certification programs. In terms of performance, the differentiators among such products are about price, processing speed, scale and auditing capabilities. But it would be surprising to see any modern data wipe product invoke multiple overwrite passes due to the unnecessary energy use, time and cost.

2. Protect your company and customer data
What is data destruction? You may have heard it referred to as data destruction, data wiping, or data erasure. Data destruction is the process of destroying data stored on tapes, hard disks and other forms of electronic media so that it is completely unreadable and cannot be accessed or used for unauthorized purposes. Even in this digital age companies and consumers aren’t always sure what constitutes secure data destruction and what doesn’t.

Simply reformatting a disk, for example, won’t actually wipe it – it just removes the existing file system and generates a new one, which is comparable to tearing out the table of contents when you really want to throw out the book itself. Additionally, smashing your hard drives with a hammer is no guarantee – however unlikely – that someone with enough time on their hands won’t be able to reassemble the platters and transcribe the data.

You’re probably thinking, how do companies and consumers attain peace of mind that their sensitive information won’t be accessible after it’s been deleted? There are actually a few different fail-safe data destruction methods that have the approval of international governments and standards agencies. These methods vary in cost and come with their own unique advantages and disadvantages. Here are three of the most important methods to permanently erase data.

Method 1: Data erasure software
One of the easiest ways to permanently remove data is to use software. Hard drives, solid state drives, flash storage devices and virtual environments can all be wiped without the expense of special hardware, and the software required ranges from free – such as the ‘shred’ command bundled with most Unix-like operating systems – to third party commercial products from companies like Blannco or SoftThinks.

Even if different data destruction software uses different methods, they all subscribe to one principle: overwrite the information stored on the medium with something else. So, a program might go over a hard drive sector by sector and swap every bit for a zero, or else with randomly generated data. In order to ensure that no trace of the original magnetic pattern remains, this is could be done multiple times.

Unfortunately, there are a few things to consider when using software-based data erasure. For one, it’s can be fairly time-consuming depending on the capacity of the hard drive. Then, perhaps more importantly, there’s the fact that if certain sectors of the hard drive become inaccessible via normal means, the application won’t be able to write to them. This rare scenario makes it possible for someone with the right tools to recover data from a bad sector. It’s imperative to implement a data destruction process that will account for any outliers.

Method 2: Degausser
The degaussing process is used to render data unrecoverable from retired hard drives and other magnetic media. A degausser is essentially a giant box that generates a powerful magnetic field. The magnetic field throws the medium’s existing magnetic domains into disorder. This is typically an extremely reliable method – there’s one caveat in that state-of-the-art hard drives are denser than their predecessors and require more magnetic force to fully degauss. The current generation of degaussers should continue to be adequate for the near future.

Degaussing does have a couple of limitations. For a start, it’s effective on magnetic media only. A degausser might be powerful enough to erase a 100-terabyte hard drive, but put a flash storage device in there and it’ll come out unharmed.

More importantly for companies looking to recover maximum value, degaussed hard drives can’t be reused, so it’s not an ideal solution for companies looking to recycle or sell their hardware.

Method 3: Physical destruction
Finally, physically destroying the media is an option, though as stated previously, this isn’t always a fail-safe method. A hard drive may endure major damage before the data contained within is rendered irretrievable. In fact, even if the platters inside the drive are shattered, it’s theoretically possible that someone might successfully recover the contents after putting parts back together.

In essence, just breaking a hard drive in half isn’t a suitable procedure for permanently erasing end-of-life data. If a company decides physical destruction is the preferred method, it should ensure that the media is shattered into as many pieces as possible by using a shredder specifically manufactured to shred hard drives.

For devices that use flash memory, the process is slightly different. If the memory chip itself is completely destroyed, the data can’t be recovered. But if it survives, it can be placed into another circuit board with a new controller chip and the information can be recovered with minimal effort.

Remember, never assume that all methods of physically destroying media will ensure that no data can be recovered. It takes diligence and strict adherence to procedure to get the job properly each time.

3. Find a trusted partner to support your reuse and recycle program
It’s likely you’ll require a partner with experience buying and selling your specific used equipment, and then, employing his intimate knowledge of industry and product hardware to help maximize the value. All equipment should be considered for the reuse and recycle funnel. Savvy partners will be able to find buyers by repositioning components in the marketplace and finding their appropriate niches.

Each company has their own little nuances. A company might have excess monitors – literally tens of thousands of them that were all RGB (Red, Green, Blue). The problem is - their normal market doesn’t use RGB; it uses VGA (Video Graphics Array). And so, they are just stuck with them. The right partner is able to convert things from one market to another and drive value, where maybe before, they were going to scrap them. The focus should be on finding the value in the outside channels, or find something that’s going to be scrapped and find a market for it.

Companies have a need for trade-in value; everyone is buying and selling, but there’s more to that trade-in value if you can find a way to make something out of it beyond its immediate economic return. If you can’t sell a device again – whole – then you have to look at the next layer. Then you have to look at the next layer from that component level. Consider whether the components can be used to satisfy warranty repair services, and/or selling tested working components. Then there’s another layer after that, and that would be the bare metal extraction. Then, you’re really looking at how to economize from the left-over scrap without pulverizing and incinerating it – because that has no value.

An ideal partner for managing this type of program should be well versed in these four core services: Trade-in & Take Back; Buyback – Buy/Sell Excess; Processing, Refurbish & Repair; and 360° Recycling. Trade-in should provide an easily branded “white label” trade-in solution for any consumer direct accounts, educational accounts, small business accounts, and enterprise accounts. Buy/Sell will encompass excess inventory, end of life, returned, service parts, and “as is” consumer electronics. The Processing, Refurbishing & Repair capabilities require the partner facility to be ISO and OHSAS (Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series) certified, and includes repair, and, if necessary, data destruction.

Most companies that do recycling are not very good at reusing product; it’s a lot easier for them to scrap it. And a lot of the companies that are into the retail or reuse space are actually very poor at compliance and destructing product that people want destroyed, and they’re very poor at reclaiming parts and pieces. So, expertise with both sides of that market will deliver maximize the value for a company. In the past three years, PowerON has diverted nearly 5 million electronic devices from the waste stream. These devices were either properly recycled, or reused and sold at a substantially reduced rate to those who need more affordable technology solutions.

Perhaps the newest level of value, which literally closes the circle on the product chain, is 360° Recycling. The idea is to leave nothing for the landfill; equipment gets deconstructed down to its most basic components - even reclaiming and recycling the tiny traces of Rare Earth Metals (REEs) that are critical to the manufacturing of laptops, desktop computers, tablets, and mobile phones. This is an area in which PowerON has moved the needle significantly in the past and continues to do so.
Brent Kelly, CEO of PowerON, which he founded in 1994, was still in college when he first began his career of buying and selling computer hardware. As a student rep for both IBM and Apple, he was helping his fellow community college students continually update their computer systems as each new product or technology quickly replaced one that was also once new, only a short time before. At the same time, he was also amassing a cache of older equipment.

After getting his A.A. degree, he departed for Oregon State, where he says he spent his mornings in the library’s microfiche department, building a database of computer dealers, “writing down every single computer dealer from the Yellow Pages from every single Yellow Pages in the nation,” he recalls. “Then I would call them and get the fax number and start faxing weekly: ‘What do you have? And here’s what I have.’ I could buy and sell anything. That’s really how I started.”
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