Today countries around the world are celebrating International Day for Recycling – a day for people and organisations to recall the strategy of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle to eliminate waste and reduce pollution.
But it's also a day when experts are reminding organisations to dispose of their data and equipment responsibly.
In the UK, disposal of electronic equipment is the fastest growing waste stream, with an estimated two million tonnes of electrical and electronic waste disposed of each year.
Recycling unwanted equipment keeps it out of landfill sites and means that new products don’t rely so heavily on raw materials as some of the old materials or even parts from previous models can be reused.
Most electrical equipment can be recycled from servers and desktops to laptops and smartphones but should be done through appropriate channels such as DEFRA or by sending back equipment to the manufacturer. Dell,HP and O2 all offer these services.
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The importance of recycling electronic equipment can't be understated – many electronic devices rely on rare minerals such as tantalum, tungsten and gold that often dug up at the expense of natural habits or people's lives due to conflict.
But while recycling these resources and reducing manufacturers' reliance on new materials is a vitally important objective, it’s also crucial for companies that data stored on disused servers, laptops, computers and mobile devices is properly destroyed so it doesn't fall into the wrong hands.
New research from data recovery specialist Kroll Ontrack which examined 122 pieces of second-hand equipment revealed that 48% of hard disk drives and solid state drives contain residual data, while thousands of leftover emails, call logs, texts/SMS/IMs, photos and videos were retrieved from 35% of mobile devices.
Upon closer examination, researchers discovered that a deletion attempt had been made on 57% of the mobile devices and 75% of the drives that contained residual data, showing that even returning devices to factory settings does not necessarily erase personal information.
Simple deletion or restoring to factory settings does not ensure data can't be retrieved by a determined thief, and while legislation on the disposal of electrical equipment is enforced from Europe in the form of the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive and with overlap from the Waste Acceptance Criteria issued by DEFRA in the UK, or the Data Protection Act 1998 is often overlooked during the recycling or disposal process.
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Kroll Ontrack managing director Phil Bridge implores businesses and individuals alike to dispose of data as responsibly as their hardware, using a thorough and appropriate method of destruction.
'Businesses go to great lengths to protect data in equipment they are currently using via encryption, backups, and redundant systems but often the data which has been protected so carefully is easily stolen from disused equipment if not properly destroyed,' says Bridge. 'If the data was once worth protecting it is worth permanently deleting and businesses in particular need to make sure they dispose of data as carefully as they protected it.'