Guide to Preparing your Electronic Equipment for Recycling

by | Mar 18, 2022 | Circular Economy, Data Security

Preparing your Electronic Equipment for Recycling

Before dropping off your electronic equipment for recycling, there are a few steps you should take. These steps will ensure your electronics are responsibly recycled and protect your data. You can find detailed instructions throughout this article for various types of electronic equipment.

The following are extra security measures for your peace of mind but unnecessary.

Remove Hardware Security Software from Laptops and PCs

Hardware security includes, but is not limited to, BIOS lock, iCloud Lock, remote management, and CompuTrace. These types of software are attached to the actual computer – not the hard drive. Even with a wiped or brand-new hard drive, the software is still there. Ultimately, this can lead directly back to the original owner. In this case, ACE Recycling will destroy the device for information security. However, it goes directly against our goal of keeping as much in circulation as possible.

We outline commonly used hardware security software below. Businesses use this software most; however, the average consumer can use iCloud locks on any Apple device. If you know your electronic equipment uses software that cannot be removed by wiping the hard drive, please relinquish the device from that software. Removing these security measures protects your organization and allows us to keep the machine in circulation.

BIOS Lock

The BIOS is firmware on all computers that run essential functions. It allows you to install an operating system, like Windows. It is possible to add a password to the BIOS, restricting things like changing the boot order or using a USB drive. BIOS lock is typically used in businesses to prevent BIOS changes by employees and add an extra level of security. 

According to the NIST report BIOS Protection Guidelines, Special Publication 800- 147, “Before the computer system is disposed and leaves the organization, the organization should remove or destroy any sensitive data from the system BIOS. The configuration baseline should be reset to the manufacturer’s default profile; in particular, sensitive settings such as passwords should be deleted from the system, and keys should also be removed from the key store.”  

CompuTrace

CompuTrace (AKA Absolute Home and Office, or LoJack for computers) is proprietary software installed on a computer to trace its location. CompuTrace software attaches to the computer’s BIOS and, like a BIOS lock, will not “erase” with a hard drive wipe. This software reinstalls itself if uninstalled by someone other than the original company. It also can forensically mine the computer if reported as stolen. Because the software tracks the location and sends back data, it risks the computer’s new owner. 

Remote Management

Remote management is managing a computer or network from one central remote location. It involves installing software and managing all activities on a client’s systems/network, workstations, servers, or endpoints. Large companies and schools often use this tool to achieve several practical goals, such as maintenance of systems, including troubleshooting and mass updating.

One crucial point is the device itself is remotely managed. The laptop or PC is still linked to and controlled by the parent organization, even with an erased hard drive. While a device is within the organization, remote maintenance is time-saving and efficient. However, remote management is no longer needed once removed from that organization. Remote management allows a new owner to trace the machine back to the parent organization and prevents upgrading the device.  

iCloud Lock

If you recycle Apple products, please ensure they are not iCloud locked (activation locked, account locked). iCloud locked devices are password protected and, therefore, entirely useless for anyone but the person who possesses that password. Please remove this from any Apple device before dropping it off.  

A Special Note about Managed, Locked, and Traced Computers

If you create a security measure for electronic equipment, someone will find a way around it. You can quickly go around remote management and iCloud locks – and to a lesser degree, BIOS lock and CompuTrace with a simple internet search. You can “jailbreak” an Apple device, “crack” a BIOS lock, and all sorts of other colorful words for going around these security measures. You can find laptops for sale that have been “cracked” or “jailbreak” online. People do this all the time and often sell these devices for less than a “clean” one.  

However, this exposes the device’s original owner. Additionally, it makes certain features unavailable, such as upgrading. Not being able to upgrade poses a secondary security risk. At ACE Recycling, data security and privacy are our number one priority. Therefore, we will never go around hardware security software. We will destroy the device, albeit with a tear in our eye.    

Back up Data from Hard Drives

If you have information on a hard drive that you need to keep, you have a couple of options. First, you need to determine if the laptop or PC will turn on or “boot.” Once you have figured that out, you can choose which option works best.

Removing data from electronic equipment with a hard drive

If you can boot the device –

If you can boot the computer, move any files you need to onto a USB flash drive or external hard drive. Alternativly, Cloud-based storage is becoming the optimal and most used option for long-term file storage. You will need an Apple, Google, or Microsoft account. If you have an Apple, Gmail, Hotmail, Live, or Outlook email address, you have access to free Cloud-based storage. On Google, you can store documents and other files on your Google Drive. The Microsoft equivalent is called OneDrive Microsoft, and Apple has the iCloud. In addition to the Cloud services listed above, there are many others.  

If you cannot boot the device –

If you cannot start the device, a SATA to USB adapter can access the information on the hard drive.  This is acheived by plugging removing the hard drive from the original device.  The hard drive is then attached to the SATA to USB adapter, which is plugged into a working computer.  The hard drive will appear under This PC in the File Explorer, just as a USB drive would.  You can then copy files from the hard drive to the computer you have it plugged into, or to Cloud storage.  These are under $20 at most stores, such as Walmart and Amazon. Alternatively, ACE Recycling can transfer files for you from a hard drive to a USB. There is a fee for this service. However, it eliminates purchasing and figuring out the SATA to USB adapter. This service is $50.00; however, it could be more if you have a significant amount of data to transfer.  

Example of a SATA to USB adapter

SATA to USB Adapter.  Used to transfer information from a SATA hard drive to a computer, in a similar way that you move files to a USB drive.

Printers and Copiers

Remove Paper

ACE Recycling never buys printer paper. We don’t have to because almost every printer and copy machine that comes through our door has the white copy paper left in it. Printer paper is expensive, not to mention the toll paper has on our already disappearing forests. Reclaim some money by checking your printers and copy machines for paper. 

Mail ink/toner back to the manufacturer  

ACE Recycling has an article dedicated only to ink and toner cartridge recycling. Please follow these guidelines to recycle if you have ink and toner.  

1st – Keep the mailing label that comes in the box with ink/toner. Keep the box, too! Place your empty cartridge in the original box, tape it up, place the label on it and mail it back to the manufacturer for proper disposal. 

2nd – We found a company that will take any brand of ink/toner, empty or unopened, and recycles it properly!! You can print a mailing label right from the Coast to Coast Computer Products website and mail it to them for recycling at no cost. 

3rd – If you have empty INKJET cartridges, Planet Green will buy them from you. Email them at empties@pginkjets.com.   

Put like Electronic Equipment Together

As you are packing up your material to be recycled, put like-with-like. If ACE Recycling is picking up for your business, this will speed up the pick-up and processing of your equipment. ACE Recycling sorts materials into several categories following environmental laws. Sorting allows us to determine what needs to be tested and upgraded. As you can imagine, sorting is time-consuming. If things are pre-sorted when they come in our door, it will speed up the processing of your equipment.  

What About Data Security?

Most people are very concerned about their data when they drop off electronic equipment at ACE Recycling. Security questions are the most commonly asked by walk-in customers. We are not interested in your data. We erase (or physically destroy) every hard drive that comes through our door. We work with companies that count on us to certify data destruction. Our business is grounded in protecting data. But we understand your concern and are therefore one-hundred percent transparent about our data erasure.  

We spell out our data security process and the standards we use in two places on our website. First, visit the Data Security page for a general overview. Second, the article Data Security: What does it mean to “wipe” data and how secure is it?  gives a more detailed explanation. There is a summary below.

National Standards for Erasing Data on All Types of Electronic Equipment

The NIST report defines three categories of sanitization for a variety of electronic eqiupment: Clear, Purge, and Destroy. Using manufacturer on-board standard read and write commands would constitute clearing your data. In laypeople’s terms, “clearing” data is restoring your device to factory settings. The average consumer can apply these techniques. Clearing data works with non-re-writable equipment like routers, switches, printers, etc. 

Purging destroys data on re-writable or hard-drive-based electronic equipment. Purging is “physical or logical techniques that render the Target Data recovery infeasible using state of the art laboratory techniques.” The following section explains the purging data as ACE Recycling does through the data erasure process. Destroy is the physical destruction of the device, removing the device from circulation through recycling. Destruction occurs if a hard drive fails the purging process.

Data Security Sanitization Techniques for various types of electronic equipment per NIST

ACE Recycling Standards for Erasing Data on Hard-Drive Based Electronic Equipment

ACE Recycling uses a one-pass overwrite with complete disk verification, completed using the latest version of Active@ KillDisk. According to the National Security Agency, data wiped using these standards is “permanently destroyed as to make any type of forensic data recovery impossible.” In addition to the software verifying the sufficient wipe of your data, ACE Recycling takes a random sampling of the devices that have gone through the sanitization process. This tiered system ensures data security, giving our customers peace of mind while keeping the device in circulation. 

The Destroyinator (no joke, that is its name) is a machine that holds 60 hard drives and erases data using Active@Killdisk software. If a hard drive comes through ACE Recycling’s door, it has a date with the Destroyinator. The hard drive is pulled from the computer and put on the Destroyinator. Your operating system is never accessed, as the Active@Killdisk software runs the wiping process on a Linux-based server. If the hard drive fails the wiping process, it is destroyed and recycled.

Electronic equipment data destruction

The Destroyinator allows ACE Recycling to securely erase hard drives without booting into your operating system.

Extra Security Measures (Optional) for Various Types of Electronic Equipment

Cell Phones: Back up and Reset 

Removing a hard drive is essential to wiping it. Removing the hard drive from a cell phone and putting it on the wiping machine is impossible. Aside from its tiny size, the hard drive is a NAND flash chip. This type of hard drive works differently than a traditional hard drive. Consequently, cell phones are considered non-re-writable. ACE Recycling destroys most cell phones. However, if you want some added peace of mind, you can follow these steps. A video or how-to guide can be found easily online for any of the steps below.

 

Guide to Recycling Electronic Equipment: Cell Phone
  • Back up Information

Back up any needed pictures, documents, and downloads on your phone using Cloud storage. Most phones automatically do this. You can do this through an Apple, Samsung, Microsoft, or Google account. Navigate to Settings > Accounts and Backups to back up your data.  

  • Erase Accounts

Most of the apps on your phone are working through the Cloud, not your phone. For example, your email, social media accounts, bank account apps, Google sessions take place through that respective account. These accounts can be accessed anywhere with an internet connection using your username and password. It is a good idea to remove your accounts from your phone.  Removing accounts can be done through Settings > Accounts on most phones. 

If you recycle an Apple cell phone or tablet, please ensure it is not locked in iCloud.  Here are specific instructions for preparing your Apple device for recycling,

  • Encrypt and Reset

For extra security, encrypt your phone before resetting it. You can also find this in Settings. Please note that Android phones with OS Android 8 or better (current 2022 update is 12) and Apple devices are automatically encrypted if you use a passcode to access your phone.  To find which Android version you have, navigate to Settings > About Phone > Software Infromation.  To encrypt, simply passcode/word protect your phone.  

You can find the steps for resetting any device to factory settings online by searching the device name and “factory reset.” In general, you want to go to Settings > General > Back-Up and Reset

  • SIM Card 

If you would like to pull the SIM card from the phone and cut it in half, we are happy to recycle the destroyed SIM card for you.  

Routers, Switches, Printers: Factory Reset

Non-re-writable equipment stores a small amount of information temporarily using ROM. An example would be a router that goes to the internet to find an IP address. When you turn off the router, it erases the stored address. These devices store what they need to complete their job at the moment. Simply powering these devices off erases stored information. This short-term storage method is why a restart will usually fix an error on these devices. 

All printers, routers, switches, and flash drives are destroyed and recycled. The only exception is if the equipment is still in its original packaging. Manufacturers include a “factory reset” on these devices because they cannot be wiped using data erasure software. A factory reset can be done quickly through the device itself in the Settings

PCs, Laptops, or Servers: Reset

It is possible to do a “factory reset” on a PC or laptop. The result is a “fresh” Windows install and will delete any information, including files on the computer. This step is unnecessary, as ACE Recycling will wipe the hard drive. Before doing this, you follow the steps above to pull any information off the computer you need.  

For a Windows 10 based machine, you will need to navigate to Settings. From there, select Updates and Security > Recovery. You can find an illustrated instructional walkthrough here. If your machine uses an older version of Windows or is Apple, an internet search for “factory reset” with the operating system will guide you. 

Conclusion

As electronic recyclers, ACE Recycling faces many obstacles. From printer ink to interactive whiteboards, some items prove challenging to dispose of responsibly. However, we work long and hard to find outlets for electronic equipment and components of that equipment. We genuinely care about the environment and our role in protecting it. Therefore, if we can educate our customers to help us be more environmentally responsible, we will. As the saying goes, “It takes a village.” It takes all of us working together to execute the circular model. We appreciate your help in our never-ending quest to protect our environment.

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