Data security of discarded electronics

One of the most common concerns regarding electronics recycling and disposal is the issue of data security. As people use online banking and other online payment system, the concern for data security is legitimate. Personally, I would not want to recycle a computer knowing that I may be risking identity theft – and I think that many will agree. The same also extends to larger companies and corporations, who may have very sensitive data on their computers, such as employee social security cards, proprietary information, detailed budget breakdowns and more. The need for data removal was pointed out in a New York Times article titled “Deleted but not Gone“.

So hoHDw does one secure data left in obsolete computers? There are three main options 1) “Soft” data removal, which keeps the hard drive in tact; 2) Physical hard drive destruction (hard drive + hammer = data security); 3) degaussing. No one will argue that physical hard drive destruction will lead to data security. Degaussing is also a way to remove data securely. Essentially, degaussing will de-magnetize the hard drive, destroying all the data and rendering the hard drive useless. “Soft” data destruction is a bit more contentious.

According to Peter Gutmann, data should be overwritten 35 times in order to effectively remove all data. Additionally, the US Department of Defense states that data should be erased and overwritten 7 times, in order to effectively remove all data. In addition, the National Institute of Standards and Technology offers detailed Guidelines for Media Sanitization. But which of these is correct, and is it possible to only erase data once in order for it to be effectively removed?

According to Lidija Davis, both Windows and Apple offer programs that will effectively remove all data. eHow lists Darik’s Boot and Nuke software as the main option to remove data securely while maintaining hard ware functionality. Additional data erasing software includes Active@Kill Disc Hard Drive Eraser, Acronis Disc Cleanser, and Blancco. Additional information about hard drive security and data erasure can be found through TechSoup Global’s article titled “Obliterate Hard-Drive Data with Disk-Wiping Software“.

The software deletion programs listed above are only some examples and should not be viewed as an advertisement or support for any software company or data removal method.

Exciting new electronic designs

As I have been browsing the internet for new e-waste related news, I have found a few news items that have sparked my interest. All of the following are exciting, since they promote the use of less energy and also less electronic waste. This is not an advertisement for a particular organization or company, but of a pat on the back to the designers and engineers who are concerned about sustainability.

1. Universal Laptop Chargers

asusTwo Taiwanese companies have openly stated that they are in favor of universal laptop chargers! The two companies are Asustek and Acer, who place fifth and second, in all worldwide laptop shipments (PC Pro). This is very exciting news, as chargers and other laptop and electronics accessories are large suppliers of electronic waste. According to DigiTimes, manufacturers such as  Quanta Computer, Compal Electronics, Wistron, Pegatron Technology and Inventec also support the move to uniform laptop chargers. I am interested to see this new development, since verbal support does not always materialize in financial support. As someone who lives in a household with three laptops for two people, I would be very happy to see a move to a more efficient use of our resources and cables.

2. Bike-Powered Electronic Devices

Cell phones are ubiquitous in today’s society, and one thing accompanying cell phones are their chargers. nokiabicyclechargerkit01There have been several design concepts suggesting various ways to charge cell phones by simply using kinetic energy; these ideas include foot power, cranking, rotating, and more (Green Diary). One concept I have heard about on several occasions have been a bicycle-powered cell phone charger. Most designs I have heard about, however, have been student project designs with little marketing capabilities. But it seems that Nokia has created a bike-powered cell phone charger that is marketed toward developing nations or nations with high bike-riding populations (Inhabitat). As someone who loves to ride her bike to work and also forgets to charge her cell phone frequently, this concept is perfect – and perfectly sustainable! With this new product, you can charge your phone, help the environment, and also prevent your cell phone charger from turning into an energy vampire.

3. Cell Phone Charger Energy Vampire Slayer

vampire_finalAs briefly mentioned above, cell phone chargers have a tendency to be energy vampires. Energy vampires are devices that draw energy while plugged into a wall but not plugged into another device. This means that you cell phone is drawing energy when it is only plugged into the wall and not plugged into your cell phone as well. To combat this problem, AT&T has recently announced their first Zero Draw charger. This new technology turns off the charger once your phone or other electronic device is fully charged. This helps protect the environment and your pocketbook! In addition, this charger also aims to increase its compatibility with various chargers and ports.

I hope that you share my excitement in these new developments. I hope the market will answer in a positive way that will only encourage more sustainable design!

New Website Section – SEI Resources!

Education of a Higher DegreeThe Sustainable Electronics Initiative has added an exciting section to our website – SEI Resources (! This page has been under construction for quite some time, and we are very happy to say that it is now running in full swing!

SEI Resources are collections of records for both online and hard copy material grouped by subject. This is much like an online filing cabinet of information related to greening the design, manufacture, reuse or recycling of electronic products. Relevant events, funding opportunities and archived questions and answers from the “Ask an Expert” service are also included. Within each broad subject are more specific, sub-categorized lists (for example, within the “Education” Resource section, you may select more specific resource lists related on “Case Studies,” “Consumer Education,” “Continuing Education,” etc.) to make browsing through the included information easier.

Each item listed within a Resource has a full record containing the item’s title, a brief abstract, a link to the item (if it is available online), date of publication, source and resource type. Price and ordering information are listed for hard copy items where available.

You may further customize your browsing experience by choosing to filter the information within each subject or sub-category by one or more “audience” types, which indicate the groups that might find a particular item of interest. For example, filtering by “Consumer Information” will pull up information on health risks, statistics, tips for prolonging the life of your electronics, how to recycle or donate used electronic products, information on greener product choices, etc. Filtering by “Manufacturing & Design” will narrow the list of results to items related to best practices, case studies, resources and research on various topics related to the manufacturing and sustainable design of electronic products. If you do not filter the items within a particular category by audience, you will see a list of all the references related to the subject. Filtering by audience is simply a way to narrow your results and make browsing through the items in our database easier.

The resources are updated with news and new resources on a regular basis, and our goal is to make this one of the most comprehensive resource sections regarding electronics design, manufacture, materials, distribution, collection, regulations, and much more. Be sure to check out the resources for recent news and reports. Happy researching!

Where do I recycle my old electronics?

e_recycleDuring the last few weeks, I have received an increasing number of emails asking where people can recycle their old electronics. If you search for this answer online, you will probably be bombarded with various possibilities to return the electronics to manufacturers, sell your electronics for some extra cash, recycle your old electronics for a charitable cause, or simply bring the electronics to a national retailer. Another option, of course, is to bring your old electronics to a state-run or -approved collection event. Sometimes, going through pages and pages of information is not only time consuming, but it is also overwhelming.

To save you a headache, I took on the task of finding various e-waste collection and recycling methods. You can view various Electronic Take-Back and Donation Programs in a neat, easy-to understand format. This spreadsheet groups various electronic collection and recycling organizations in the following categories: Retailer Recycling Programs, Manufacturer Take-Back Programs, Electronics Trade-In Programs, Electronic Donation/Charity Programs, and State Collection Programs.

Rather than only providing you with links, the spreadsheet also tells you if you can simply drop off your equipment at a location, or if the electronics can be simply mailed to a facility. In addition, you can also find out simply which electronics are accepted by the various organizations. More importantly, I have also included links to various data-erasure methods. A common concern many consumers have is the security of their data before they turn in their old electronics.

In order to erase personal information from cell phones, feel free to visit the following websites:

To remove personal information from computers, the following services are available:

The Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI) does not endorse any specific data-erasing programs. The stated programs were listed for general consumer data and do not signify endorsement.

Did we leave anyone off? If we missed any electronic take-back organizations or charities, please let us know at

Three new state e-waste laws!

bill_englishIn the past two months, three new states have passed state-wide legislation requiring increased producer responsibility for the collection and proper disposal of electronic waste. Vermont was the first state to pass a new e-waste law in 2010. Shortly, South Carolina and New York State followed suit! This is fantastic news, as electronic waste is an increasing problem. At the moment, there are still seven other states which have proposed e-waste laws which will hopefully be passed in the next 6 to 12 months.

In my opinion, increased e-waste laws only indicate an increased interest in solving the current e-waste problem. Two of the states not only require e-waste collection, but they also impose a disposal ban on electronic equipment!

In Vermont, Act 079/S77 was passed in April of 2010 and takes effect on Jan. 1, 2011. Like all other extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws, the state requires electronics manufacturers, recyclers, retailers, and refurbishers of electronics to register with the state. If an organization is not registered, they will be unable to continue their business within the state of Vermont. The bill requires the collection and proper disposal of desktops, laptops, CRTs,  TVs, monitors, computer peripherals (keyboard, mice, etc.), and printers.

South Carolina’s HB 4093 was passed on May 19, 2010, and it takes affect on Jul. 1, 2011. Similar to the Vermont law, South Carolina also requires the state registration of electronic manufacturers, retailers, collectors, refurbishers, and recyclers. South Carolina requires the collection and disposal of desktops, laptops, CRTs, televisions and monitors. Unlike Vermont, South Carolina does not require the collection and disposal of computer peripherals and printers. Along with requiring the collection of electronics, South Carolina also included a disposal ban in the HB 4093 bill. The disposal ban forbids the disposal of computers, monitors, CTTs, televisions, and printers in municipal waste locations, starting on Jul 1, 2011.

Most recently, New York state has passed a comprehensive e-waste bill, which requires the registration of electronic manufacturers, collectors, recyclers, refurbishers, and retailers.The bill A 11308/S 7988, Title 27 requires proper disposal as well as enforces a disposal ban on the following electronics: televisions, monitors, desktops, laptops, computer peripherals, printers, and fax machines.

A detailed chart showing the differences between the various e-waste laws is available online on the SEI website. The chart may also be downloaded as a PDF.

Continuing the Conversation

Last week we announced some highlights from our symposium held in February. Electronics & Sustainability: Design for Energy and the Environment elicited a frenzy of information and thought provoking ideas. An extensive amount of topics were covered through a variety of perspectives.

In hopes of continuing the discussion I plan on posting a multi-part series addressing different topics raised at the symposium.

The first of this series will continue the topic from a recent post: export.

Continue reading “Continuing the Conversation”

SEI Symposium

Symposium PictureThe 2010 Electronics and Sustainability: Design for Energy and the Environment Symposium held two weeks ago was a great success! Over 20 impressive speakers in the fields of academia, manufacturing, retail, government, and recycling presented their take on electronics and sustainability. We had an impressive turnout, lively conversation, and overall, a great time had by all.

Here are some highlights from the event: Continue reading “SEI Symposium”

Electronics and Sustainability: Design for Energy and the Environment

greenearthThe Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI), part of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center and the Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), is hosting their first electronics and sustainability symposium. The event will be he held on February 23 and 24, 2010 at the I-Hotel and Conference Center.

Continue reading “Electronics and Sustainability: Design for Energy and the Environment”

eBook opinions: Part 1

ebooksAs the world has become more technologically advanced, the tech gurus around the world have been creating gadgets that will capture the hearts of many consumers. In a world today where it seems that the majority of people have laptops and smart phones (iPhones, Blackberries, etc.), the logical progression was to create a newer, cooler, hipper gadget – the eBook. The eBook is a convenient way to read books through an electronic device. This new technological wonder is marketed for giving you the multitude of resources you would encounter in a library, but all the resources will be available at your fingertips through a very portable device.

Continue reading “eBook opinions: Part 1”

Energy Efficiency for Individuals and Industries

“Energy efficiency” has been a popular phrase for several years in industries and households. The main motivation behind energy efficiency has been to lessen the environmental impact of our energy needs. With the use of computers, automobiles, televisions, heating and cooling systems within our buildings, and many other everyday operations, people have been increasing their need for energy. In order to get the electricity we need to power most of our electronic gadgets and to provide us with comfortable living conditions, fossil fuels are extracted, processed, and finally used. All three main processes not only deplete the earth of its natural materials, but they also pollute our environment. In current economic times, however, there is another reason we should become more efficient with our energy – we can save money. Continue reading “Energy Efficiency for Individuals and Industries”