E-Waste Recycling Spotlight: Hard Drives

E-Waste Recycling Spotlight: Hard Drives

Recycling Spotlight: Hard Drives

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at PC Pro? We say we recycle your old electronics, but what really happens? Follow us to see what happens to each and every component in the devices you donate. This week, our focus is on one of the most delicate components you can find inside your PC: hard drives. These monolithic slabs of aluminum and steel keep our precious data safe and deliver it to us within a moments notice, which is often taken for granted considering their mechanical complexity. We've previously shown you how we recycle laptop batteries, desktop computers and flatscreen TVs.

Recycling hard drives Colorado PC Pro
You'll need a set of Torx driver bits to get into these hard drives. Watch for hidden screws under the label!

Most hard drives, also known as Hard Disk Drives (HDDs), come across our workbench inside unwanted, broken, or unused computers destined for final disposition. As you may suspect, many of these hard drives have personal information from previous owners still present, highlighting the need for wiping your data before getting rid of your devices. If you're ever in doubt, we offer free data transfer from donated devices - that means that if you donate a laptop, desktop or tablet we will recover and return your data to you, absolutely free!


Once we remove the hard drive from the device it came in we use a USB hard drive bay, lovingly called "the toaster", to connect the drive to our shop computer and run a health check using CrystalDiskInfo. This check is called S.M.A.R.T., or Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Tool, and is built into essentially every hard drive for self-diagnosis. S.M.A.R.T. checks the drive for statistics like how many times it has been powered on, the amount of hours it has been in use and the number of bad "sectors" (data storage locations) to determine when the drive will fail and assign a health rating to it.

Recycle Hard drives dock with Colorado PC Pro
We use an external hard drive dock to recover your data and format your drives

If the S.M.A.R.T. test returns any result other than "Good", it means the hard drive is no longer fit for use (or for sale) and the hard drive gets recycled like all other e-waste; but wait! The circuit board attached to the back of the hard drive is still worth something to data recovery companies who may need a replacement circuit board for a hard drive with a bad one. In order to do such a swap, circuit boards must match exactly to the specific version and even manufacture date in some cases, which makes it particularly hard to find working donor boards and gives us a reason to keep selling them. Donor boards could take a while to sell, but when they do it means we've helped someone recover their lost family photos or important documents by providing the rare part they needed.

Recycling hard drives Colorado PC Pro
This screenshot from CrystalDiskInfo shows a hard drive with a "Bad" health rating.


The rest of the hard drive, while requiring Torx screwdriver bits to disassemble, is rather easy to recycle. Removing the top lid of the hard drive reveals the guts: metallic platters centered on a spindle, an articulating arm with a read/write device on the tip to access the platters, and the magnets and data transfer components that keep that arm moving and talking to the computer. The platters are coated with silver, which can be valuable to specialty recyclers, and the Neodymium magnets found in every drive can be used for a wide variety of purposes.

Recycling hard drives Colorado PC Pro
A small stack of hard drives yields about a dozen types of parts. Almost everything is worth something.

A few small screws are all that stand between you and a 100% certainty that your data is safe or destroyed. Removing the platters and shredding them will do the job, as will a hammer or even a rock. Not comfortable doing this yourself? That's what we're here for! E-mail us at ColoradoPCPro@Gmail.com to schedule your free pickup. Remember, we offer free data recovery and transfer from any donated devices, but the hard drives still have to be functional.

Want to see something special recycled? Let us know at @ColoradoPCPro on Facebook and we'll see what we can do.

Comments are closed.