Check Before You Chuck It: 7 Mistakes to Avoid with IT Asset Disposal

Topics: IT Asset Disposition

By: Michele Hope

Once legacy data has outlived its usefulness, what should you do with it: Repurpose it? Resell it? Recycle it? Destroy it? As it turns out, with IT asset disposal, you may be able to do all of the above.

What we're talking about is e-waste and a lot of it. This includes old computers, computer hardware, printers, fax machines, scanners and even consumer TVs and cell phones. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) International Environmental Technology Centre (IETC), about 50 million tons of e-waste are produced globally each year. For 2013, the EPA claimed roughly 1.87 million short tons of e-waste. It also claimed that only about 40 percent of such end-of-life electronics were slated for recycling. In fact, as much as 70% of heavy metals in U.S. landfills currently comes from these types of discarded electronics, according to the IETC.

Given such sobering figures, it makes sense to keep track of your organization's IT asset disposition (ITAD) practices. Here are some mistakes to avoid—whether you're disposing of 1 or 1,000 items:

  1. Not knowing where the asset ends up. Many third-party services offer to take and dispose of (or recycle) your IT assets. But, horror stories still exist with assets ending up in less-regulated, third-world countries or recycling work being performed by prison or child labor. How do you avoid such scenarios? Here's one way: See if your third-party service is certified with globally responsible programs, such as the recognized e-Stewards program.
  2. Not keeping the 'Six Ds' in mind to protect your data. Some organizations might assume basic deletion or overwriting of their disk data is enough to prevent sensitive data from falling into the wrong hands. Others might be in the habit of just removing the disk drives entirely before asset hand-off to a third party. Enterprises wanting to be sure their disk drives are wiped of sensitive data tend to subscribe to the following '6 Ds': Destroy data on disk drives according to the Department of Defense 5220.2-M standard. This involves a four-pass overwrite of each disk sector. Third-party services should follow such strict, overwrite methods. One caveat: Sensitive company data doesn't just exist on computer disk drives. It can also exist inside fax machines, copiers and company cell phones.
  3. DIY. Most organizations don't have sufficient resources or expertise to properly perform all aspects of IT asset disposition themselves. This is especially true for the complex recycling of electronic parts, such as circuit boards. Such methods include the safe isolation and disposition of a circuit board's toxic components as well as methods to extract and reuse the circuit board's high concentrations of heavy metals, such as copper, silver, gold and palladium.
  4. Not tracking or reporting assets. If you outsource IT asset disposition, it's important to track each asset and receive reports on its ultimate disposition or recycling. To minimize your company's risk and exposures, track how many items left your facility vs. how many were subsequently destroyed, repurposed or recycled. Not tracking assets at disposition can also be a sign of a bigger issue: Asset tracking shouldn't really begin at disposition. It should be part of your organization's overall IT asset management procedures. From the time an asset is acquired to its on-going use and ultimate disposition, asset lifecycle information can provide further cost savings. Does your company know how many laptops or computers it has? According to this account, one company thought it owned 700 computers. A physical count, however, revealed 1,200 PCs in its possession.
  5. Being too quick to dispose of your assets. Many IT assets, even those no longer in working order, may still have good market value that can be recovered through refurbishment and resale. Remaining parts can be recycled according to approved recycling methods. DoSomething.org claims "a large number of what is labeled as 'e-waste' is actually not waste at all, but rather whole electronic equipment or parts that are readily marketable for reuse or can be recycled for materials recovery."
  6. Not squeezing the most out of equipment while you have it. We're not just talking about how much productive use you get out of a computer. Smart ITAD programs can further save companies money and gain tax benefits by depreciating and amortizing their older assets over time. They can also ensure IT assets are retired properly to minimize end-of-life penalties. Third-party experts can help devise plans for the greatest cost savings.
  7. Not knowing if you're compliant. There's a plethora of State and Federal regulations governing proper hardware disposal and data destruction. Such regulations surround everything from e-waste to data erasure and the protection of sensitive customer data. If you're in a highly regulated industry, you face still other requirements about the disposition of your data. According to the Electronics TakeBack Coalition (ETBC), 25 states have already passed some type of e-waste legislation, with more states in process. Prevent potential fines or sanctions. Know what's expected before you dispose of your assets.

While you can certainly go it alone when it comes to IT asset disposition, organizations most involved in reducing risk often rely on trusted third-party experts to ease the process. Learn more about how Iron Mountain can help.

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