APA eCycles

By Bill Janakos
Former APA Information Systems Manager

Faced with a mountain of old servers, desktops, printers, and hard drives that dated back more than a decade, the time finally came for APA to take serious action and make some space in the storage room.

My conscience has always kept me from just tossing this stuff into the dumpster, so I try to find alternate means of off-loading decommissioned computer equipment. In the past, I started with offering APA employees the opportunity to purchase low-cost decommissioned equipment, but that rid me of only a few desktops, laptops, and monitors. I tried donating, but some of our equipment was too old even to give away! eBay worked for a few things, but ultimately proved unproductive.

A guilty conscience was not my only incentive to stockpile old computer junk. There was also the issue of data security. Our standard method was to magnetically wipe the disks clean (degaussing), but a savvy colleague proved that data still could be recovered.

The recent launch of APA's Green Initiative inspired me to dig deep and find a way to dispose of our e-junk that was both secure and environmentally benign. After a few phone calls to the EPA, I decided that I needed to find a recycling facility that is ISO 14001–certified and uses a Department of Defense–approved method of destroying data.

It took some coordination, but I was able to assemble a group of organizations that suited my needs. First, a moving company that specializes in transporting computer equipment stuffed a large moving van full of decommissioned equipment. The first stop was the ISO 14001 Certified Recyclers. They sorted the equipment and helped me determine what could be resold or donated. Whatever was left over would be disassembled and recycled. Virtually every component of a computer was removed and sorted. Even the motherboards were stripped down to recycle the heavy and precious metals. Anything that was not recyclable they disposed of in a legal and environmentally friendly manner.

After the recycling plant came the hard drive specialists, who completely dismantled the hard drives and sorted the raw materials. I had given all the drives a good degaussing and overwrite before they left APA. After being dismantled, the plates were degaussed again, shredded into tiny metal chips, randomly spread into several large hoppers, and agitated. Finally, the chips were sent to smelters to be melted down and turned into a new block of raw material. I received an official document of destruction for each hard drive.

The final cost was minimal for such a thorough and ethical disposal of equipment. The most expensive component was the moving man (and fuel surcharge). After recovering credits from the raw materials, we fell only a few hundred dollars short of breaking even. Although I spent a fair amount of time getting everything organized, I am well prepared for next time. The Information Services department is already tagging items for donation or destruction.

eCycling becomes more popular ever day. Since I started this project, I have noticed several "One Stop" organizations that will handle the entire project from start to finish. If you're interested in e-cycling obsolete computer equipment, here are some links to help you get started: