The Dangers of E-Waste
According to the latest figures from the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA, Americans get rid of 47.4 million computers, 27.2 million televisions, and 141 million mobile devices annually. Only a quarter of all those devices are actually collected for recycling. This is what recycling can mean if more people play along:
- Recycling one million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by more than 3,500 US homes in a year
- For every million cell phones we recycle, 35 thousand pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium can be recovered
We conducted a lengthy Study called Data, Data Everywhere. We bought over 400 hard disks over eBay and analyzed each one. We found that over 66% of the used hard disks we obtained contained old data. This data was often very sensitive and confidential, including data and photos from the military and explicit, private photos. We have disguised the identity of those involved in the example on the right to protect their privacy ;-) With the ever-increasing need for disposal of old electronic equipment as highlighted through the above statistics, the risk of unsafe disposal of hardware and all the data on it is growing. This danger is just as large for private individuals as it is for companies of all sizes and types. Imagine your bank data or sensitive customer information landing in the wrong hands, and you have no idea where it is or who now possesses it.
Loopholes in international regulations preventing the transfer of hazardous waste to less developed countries mean that about 80% of all e-waste is shipped to developing countries where poorer people recycle it manually. It is often the only job thousands of people can find but workers have to manually dismantle old equipment through tasks such as burning wires to get copper and dip old circuit boards in acid to extract precious metals such as gold and silver. They inhale toxic fumes every day and lack awareness of the health risks and often health protection equipment.
What To Do
We must hope that laws and regulations governing such recycling are widened and strengthened. While that may be beyond your immediate control, you can at least protect your privacy and identity. To make sure data is deleted properly before disposal of hardware, a professional program is required that uses the Gutmann method of safe deletion in addition to standards deployed by the US Department of Defense, for example. We offer such a program: O&O SafeErase 6. Why not try it out and keep it handy for when you dispose or recycle your old hardware. That way you will not end up as a photo case in a study like ours!