Storage optimize

Best Buy's recycling program does not accept storage media

Before the company will recycle an old computer, Best Buy's policy says that the hard drive has to be removed. While it is prudent to make sure that there is no data on a machine destined for a recycler, there are ways to accomplish this without removing the drive completely.

Before the company will recycle an old computer, Best Buy's policy says that the hard drive has to be removed. While it is prudent to make sure that there is no data on a machine destined for a recycler, there are ways to accomplish this without removing the drive completely.

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On the February 15, 2009, Best Buy started accepting recyclable electronics at all of its store locations in the U.S. In many cases, there is no cost associated with the recycling service. The exceptions to this are CRT and LCD displays and laptops. Recycling those pieces of equipment will cost $10US, but Best Buy will offset that fee by giving customers a $10 Best Buy gift card.

While I wouldn't consider myself an ardent environmentalist, I believe in taking advantage of any reasonable means of lessening my impact. Computer equipment contains harmful chemicals, and it should be disposed of safely. I appreciate Best Buy's new program because the most effective way to have the public start taking responsibility for recycling their electronics is by making such services readily accessible.

There was one passage in the terms and conditions for the new program that surprised me, however. That was the passage that stated that Best Buy wouldn't accept any equipment that might contain personal data. From the company's F.A.Q. (the italics are my emphasis):

What happens to customer data included on a recycled product?

Best Buy stores will not take possession of customers' personal data -- this includes camera and computer discs/CDs/DVDs, hard drives from laptops or desktop PCs, or any other device that could contain customer information. In the case of hard drives on laptops or desktop PCs, customers will be asked to remove the hard drive themselves, or they can pay a Geek Squad agent to remove the hard drive before handing the PC over to be recycled. For an explanation on how to Do-it-Yourself, see this video from Geek Squad. Under no circumstances shall Best Buy be liable for any loss of any data or media from products delivered to us for recycling.

I understand the disclaimer that Best Buy has attached to their program, which absolves them from responsibility for data loss. That's standard corporate practice. I'm a bit surprised at their insistence that the hard drives be removed completely. Maybe it's an effort to throw some business to the Geek Squad, because there are plenty of ways that software can be used to confidently erase a drive. Besides, there are plenty of charities that try to find worthwhile applications for unwanted PCs with needy individuals and organizations. They would be happy to have a gently used hard drive to refurbish.

If you're recycling computer equipment for the clients you support — through Best Buy or anyone else — it's easy enough to make sure the drives are cleaned of any data. Check out Darik's Boot and Nuke for a free boot disk that will erase hard disks up to the standards of the U.S. Department of Defense. Mac users who have problems with DBAN can boot off of their system software DVD and use the Secure Erase feature of Apple's Disk Utility application to DOD wipe their hard drives. (If an application can make seven passes that completely overwrite the drive's data, that is generally considered secure.)

For a laugh, check out the Do-It-Yourself video on data protection that Best Buy had the Geek Squad put together. Certainly, anyone who watches that instructional video will be able to successfully destroy a hard drive. They may also have to contend with injury if they employ the unsafe drill-handling practices demonstrated. Save yourself from laceration...let software destroy your data.

38 comments
MercaLoday
MercaLoday

Office Depot will recycle old electronics (PC's, monitors, TVs, VHS recorders, etc.) without having to wipe the HDs. They charge by the box. A small box will hold a desktop PC and costs $5 (for shipping and the box). They don't accept any leaking equiptment or cracked CRTs or TVs. They'll recycle small electronics (cell phone, PDAs, etc.) for free. They were very helpful, even coming out to my car to help bring everything inside. See their web site www.officedepot.com under Services->Tech Recycling. CLM

publicrelatonsgirl
publicrelatonsgirl

I brought my hard drive to Computation to be drilled. Anything above 10GB is wiped and reused, anything below is drilled and taken care of. They have locations in Toronto and Montreal, I believe. http://www.computation.to

mjlas01
mjlas01

The only sure way to make sure that the data on a drive with metal platters is nonrecoverable is by opening the drive, removing the platters, then using a belt sander to remove the magnetic coating on them. Then toss them into the scrapyard so they can be melted down. Problem solved!

williamjones
williamjones

The Geek Squad recommends using a hammer or a drill to damage the drive's platters in the video I ran across during my research for this week's post. I usually shred or break CDs and DVDs when I'm disposing of them, but using software for a DOD-grade wipe is all I usually do for hard disks. Do you physically destroy hard disks, or are software data destruction methods good enough?

Yamon
Yamon

Use thermite and melt it down. Seriously, you cannot recover from dust and ash.

Lovs2look
Lovs2look

Then let them fill it up with home movies, MP3s and photos then put it on the 'net for them, sit back and watch the data die! Fastest way to erase all data from a hard disk that I know of.

IronCanadian
IronCanadian

My .303 Caliber Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk I makes pretty short work of any hard drive that needs "disposing" of... it's a real pain picking up all those little pices spread all over heck's half acre though. =) Seriously though I use a program called "Secure Data Disposal" from IBM/Lenovo to do a 7 pass DOD level "Overwrite" of the hard drive before it leaves the door... and once in awhile I'll take a 2.5" drive out for target practice.

ITCompGuy
ITCompGuy

A few years ago, my boss introduced me to a piece of equipment that I find useful at work and home. It is a CD/DVD shredder. It doesn't really shred the CD/DVD's, but after you run the CD/DVD's through the device (one quick pass), it renders any data on the disk immediately useless. You don't have to feel guilty about broken shards or disk fragments all over the place. You can use the now useless disks as decoration or as a coaster. I have tested it and you WILL not recover anything - CD/DVD-ROM drives will not even see the disk. For hard drives, I usually try to use them again in some capacity by wiping the drives first to DOD standards. There are several utilities that do an adequate job that you can find on the web for free. Personally, I have one that over-writes the whole drive with ZERO's, then ONES, then random numbers, then random no-repeating characters, and takes several hours depending on the size of the drive. You can get a freebies wipe utility that only does one complete pass, but you can use it multiple times if you like. I also have a down-and-dirty software wipe utility that is on CD&DVD. You place in the CD/DVD drive and turn on the system and it will wipe the drive and any information off the face of the Earth. I feel that I am doing my part in giving back by taking old drives (after they are wiped) and using them in older systems that aren't doing me any good any longer. I put the system together with an old licensed OS that is no longer being used (an old copy of Windows ME or Linix) and donate it to someone who does not have a computer or to a charity. If it feel that I need something for testing, backup storage, or to build a RAID configuration, I may used the drive in an external enclosure.

carol.fuhr
carol.fuhr

If I think I (or someone else) can use the drive, I'll wipe it. However, I occasionally will have a stack of smaller-capacity drives that no one wants, but may contain personal data. Then the ol' drill press comes in handy. Yes, someone really determined could recover data, but this data isn't worth that much trouble. If the computer was a troublesome one, I'll often take the HDD out to the range and put a couple of 5.56mm rounds through it. Now, that's fun!

rfolden
rfolden

Well, yeah there is. There is certainly the cost in fuel to get yer butt over to their store. And there is certainly the cost of your time for both delivery of this recycled product and removal of verboten items as well. This sounds like another one of Beast Buy's harebrained schemes to make money. I can't even imagine what fun it must be for BB and GS associates to pilfer though this recycled merchandise and take whatever they want prior to selling off the crud to some per pound vendor, who then sends it overseas to some far eastern destination where it is dissasembled down to less than the component level. The town probably has a problem with lead and other heavy metal poisoning, too.

ssmlmz
ssmlmz

My company was extremely data paranoid. Therefore, I did a fair amount of research on this topic, and here's what I learned: 1) DOD wiping requires 7 passes. This is generally enough and the disk does not need to be physically destroyed if you do this. The drawback is this process can take days depending on the size of the drive. 2) Drilling is not effective. Only the data where the drill holes are is destroyed. Specialized equipment can extract data from the rest. 3) Destroying, altering the position /removing the platter(s)is effective, so I imagine the hammer method would be good. I would do DOD wipes using GDisk on drives that would be re-used, recycled, etc. For bad drives, I would have them shredded/destroyed. I would imagine for most home users, a simple data wipe utility employing a pass or 2 would be sufficient.

ricardoc
ricardoc

I read the posts and see that other have more look than me. In my environment (a SMB) we don't dispose of computers that frequently but when the case comes I can recycle everything but the HDD. I could not convince my boss that military grade software was capable of rendering any data on a HDD to be un-readable. I could not make a case for doing a favor to an employee with a need for a hard drive. In his infinite wisdom he told me that some guy that works for some obscure company told him that any data can be recovered by using the proper technology. My explanation on what would it take to accomplish that and the chances of success after the use of a good software for deleting the data, were not enough to convince him otherwise. The bottom line he said the only secure way to know that no one ever will recover anything from the disks is to destroy them physically. His method? Melt the plates with an acetylene and oxygen torch!! Talk about paranoia! Of course I won't expose myself to the fumes in the process of melting the plates so I leave it to someone else. Ricardo.

64molson
64molson

At work, where I am responsible for SCADA (Supervisory Data Acquisition and Control) computers to run our facilities, I give the drives a couple of good wacks with a 20# sledge hammer before diposal. At home, I run KillDisk. KillDisk makes 3 passes & meets DoD requirements for data destruction. I have found though, that KillDisk has issues with bad sectors; especially during the verification run (after wiping).

Al_nyc
Al_nyc

Within the last year our office got new computers and they were disposing of the old ones. They were planning on physically destroying the drives. I had to step in and put a stop to that. I knew the machines were still usable and could be used by others. So I got a copy of a free DOD grade eraser and wiped out all the drives. Took very little effort on my part and I saved a bunch of machines for others to use. I know that the last thing a charitable organization wants is to have to buy a new hard drive for an old machine.

dogknees
dogknees

According to current physics theory, information can neither be created or destroyed. You can only spread it out so thin as to make recovery impossible. The "large hammer" method, or even better, the "large axe" method are my favourites. We don't get the chance to vent our anger very often in our business, make the best of the chance to show the hardware how you really feel!

Oz_Media
Oz_Media

Just install it on some home users computer and charge them for the work. When they bring it back and complain that their files are gone, exaplin they had a virus and charge them to install a new drive, reformat it and install the OS for them. Take the old drive and repeat until pockets are full. You don't need to dispose of old drives when you can regurgitate them and make money in the process. ;) Either that or install it on dummy users computer and let them screw it up and render it useless for you, either way you come out ahead and make money in the process.

Geek3001
Geek3001

We use a software program called KillDisk to do DOD-grade wipes on computers that go to our surplus department. When the computer doesn't function, we pull the drives and try using the drive in a couple of machines we have set up for that purpose. If that doesn't work, we assume that the hard drive doesn't work and apply a drill to it.

therealjunkman
therealjunkman

This is in reply to the question in general: As the head of a project called, "Project Connect Vets", a very small, non-profit to reuse old, donated, or otherwise unwanted computer equipment, we have NO budget for new hard drives. We have NO budget, period. Just what is donated to us. We have found that there are an embarrassing large number of Veterans who are being under served in many areas, one common one being the inability to go online in any manner. It doesn't take a lot of computer to just get email, load web pages, etc. Computers from the P III era are fine! Even if dial-up is all the Vet can get/afford, it's SO much better than nothing. And if you have ever been disabled, you would know how isolating it can be. And that's been proven to shorten lives. Not to mention, the quality of that life. Sitting around in a wheelchair, staring out the window like some bizarre potted plant is no way for a hero to pass time. But to go online, learn about their condition, possible treatments, what others in similar situations have done, and how they feel, and just connecting, it all makes a big difference. So, we set out to try to fill this unmet need, as best as 3 guys can. We've addressed the hard drive issue this way: We guarantee to the donor that we WILL positively, absolutely, make sure that ANY data, of any sort, IS WIPED! And, we have a friend, the Chief of Police, who we have watch as we do so. That way, he knows what we found, (if anything) and who's it was, etc. Should that data EVER show up where it shouldn't, he knows who to look for. This is all about accountability. After wiping, (We use a variety of software solutions, depending on drive) we then load up one of the LINUX distros as the OS, to avoid having to pay MS for windows. As Linux uses neither Fat, fat32, or NTFS, formatting in to Riser FS, or one of the several Linux types, really does make it very unlikely that any data is ever coming back. To hear of people using sledge hammers and high powered rifles is enough to make me cringe. Or cry. it's so hard to get decent equipment in this backwoods area as it is, and that just sounds so wasteful. Even very small drives have a use... We use the magnets as tool holders. And the platters are made into mobiles/sun catchers. They tinkle nicely in the wind. As others have pointed out, a lot of ignorance exists concerning hard drives and the ability to retrieve data from them. Mostly in the nature of urban myth, or old wives tails. Or, some people just enjoy being destructive... and to hell with the costs or consequences. My two cents worth. Anyone want to send us their old drives, We'll pay the freight to get it here! Even one good drive out of a box of ten makes it all worth while. We have a lot more systems we COULD be putting into the hands of a Vet deserving of one than we have the hard drives to fill the need. Often, the Ram is still in it, the Processor is still in it, but hard drives, even if present, have a high mortality rate. Junkman

Lost Cause?
Lost Cause?

Yeah...I saw that film on PBS a short while back.

michael.kregel
michael.kregel

Did you go to Best Buys site and read about what they do to the equipment? Nothing you said is on there. Its your choice to take your car to Best Buy. Its still free for you to take your junk there. Your probably the type that thinks all those things, then just throws it in the garbage can without really trying.

Lovs2look
Lovs2look

As much as it sounds like fun, I don't think whipping them will erase much...except the label maybe.

Tin Weasle
Tin Weasle

Wow... Does he advocate executing anyone who quits the company, as well?

The DOBC
The DOBC

Matter can't be created or destroyed, not information. Information is created and lost all the time.

wcosales
wcosales

All hard drive manufacturers have software on their web site to do diagonistics and also utilities one of these programs have a low level format function on it. This writes Zeros to all the hard drive if you take the long way and nothing will be left on it. You can then reload the computer and give it to charity or sell it as a used system to someone wanting a first computer or something for the kids to use. I tried a software that was suppose to do a DOD wipe and it did not work at all.

64molson
64molson

I guess what you're saying is that you take a used drive and sell it to some unsuspecting person/entity as a 'new' drive. Anyone see a problem with that??? And we Americans are accused of being morally & ethically bankrupt! Disappointed to hear you say that Oz.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

You have peer messaging disabled in your profile and provide no address or contact info in your post.

64molson
64molson

I cannot send you HDD from our systems @ work as they are used for SCADA (Supervisory Control & Data Acquistion). We are classified as "critical infrastructure" by Dept. of Homeland Insecurity. But I try to forward my personal drives that I no longer need.

dogknees
dogknees

I was trying to use the term in it's strict sense as per current physics theory. It's an interesting topic though. In a sense you're probably right. If the "information" is scattered thinly enough, it's unlikely to be useful in the sense of "knowledge". I don't pretend to be a physicist, but I try to keep up with current concepts. It's cool stuff and fun to think about. Regards

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

that many of us use "information" and "knowledge" as interchangeables. Information may be conserved; knowledge is lost every day.

dogknees
dogknees

Matter isn't conserved. Mass-energy is conserved. That is the total of the two use e-mc^2 to convert. That's pretty old physics theory! Try updating your knowledge. Hawking and others consider that information is a more fundamental constituent of the universe than either mass or energy, and that it is conserved. One of the early problems with this was "what happens to it when it goes into a blcak-hole?". Hawking and others demonstrated that black-hole radiation carries the information back into the rest of the universe, conserving it. Regards

Tin Weasle
Tin Weasle

"Information is created and lost all the time." I don't know about creating it.. But I lose information all the time. Now, where are my car keys and who am I supposed to go meet?

TonytheTiger
TonytheTiger

is NOT equivalent to wiping a drive. There is software that can detect the subtle difference in magnetic strength of a zero that used to be a one and a zero that was always a zero. Wiping a drive involves writing random ones and zeroes to the drive and doing it several times to each sector to obliterate all hint of what was there before.

64molson
64molson

Maybe Oz needs to speak up & clear the air. Didn't sound like sarcasm to me. It's folks with Oz's attitude the screw things for the rest of us.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Could it be the < sarcasm > < /sarcasm >?