I recently came across this Wired article which I thought had some good tips for when you want to retire an electronic device. Only, the good advice was wrapped in plenty of bad advice. This is not a reflection on Wired magazine—since so much of what they provide is solid information. Instead, it’s indicative of how far from mainstream the idea of sustainable recycling how we operate is.
So, I thought the Dosage would be a great place to unpack the ways we veer from popular thought, to set the record straight—and to gain a more sustainable perspective for your personal electronics.
Why data is your biggest reason to be sustainable
We’ve all seen those images of foreign shores strewn with dated PCs and monitors, and the landscape is bleak. But in the machine of daily living, those images are not enough to curb our behavior toward sustainable. It’s a sad truth, but we need something closer to home to make us take notice.
Nothing these days gets closer than your personal data. As this world grows increasingly digital, the ones and zeros that comprise your digital life are under fire; being hocked to the highest bidder by our favorite apps and social media platforms as well as being the fodder for so many hackers and cyberbullies. If the threat of losing your personal data doesn’t rattle you into sustainable behavior, nothing will.
So, how does the Wired article affect my data?
In the article, the recommendation before sending your smartphone, tablet, or laptop to the recycler is to use factory reset to dispose of the data. While this is good for surface elements like passwords and logins, it isn’t water-tight for eliminating some equally sensitive data from the device—data that a hacker would first scrub for.
This is true for business cellular phones as well. When your business transfers a phone or tablet to another employee, there needs to be more than running the factory reset to secure the previous user’s information.
Wired does point out the imperfections of this action later in the article, but we feel data is too important to even recommend this method. Instead, what should be done is to take your device to a sustainable recycler—or even better: an e-Steward recycler. There, the recycler will use NAID certified data-erasure software to ensure 100% data sanitization.
Premature shredding is never a good thing
The reason erasing data is a sustainable move is because, with a data-free device, the potential for reselling, refurbishing, or donating becomes a reality, whereas a shredded hard drive is only good for its base materials—and only if you can find a buyer. It’s this fact that motivates some un-certified recyclers to simply ship devices overseas instead of recycling them.
We’ve been pretty vocal about the problems with shredding and why that is a practice that should be avoided if there is any life left in the device. But shredding hard drives is still pretty common in even R2 certified recyclers. e-Stewards certification, however, has a more sustainable approach that urges recyclers to find the utmost value in the devices they harvest.
At Sage, our mission to extend the life of electronic devices requires that we preach the message of conscientious reuse as often as possible. And devices can only be sustainable with a solid reuse plan that includes 100% data destruction via data-erasure software. If there is anything that moves you to be more sustainable with your electronic devices, we hope it is that your personal data can be absolutely safe while preventing these toxic devices from going into the landfill or some foreign shore.
Regardless of what you do, however, know that we as a civilization have reached the stage where each of us needs to be more conscientious of our consumerism. Particularly with regards to electronic devices because of the environmental cost they carry. If you purchase an electronic device, the onus is on you the consumer to be more sustainable with that device. And, for our money, that means extending its life.