As each of my PCs was replaced one by one over the last 20 years or so, I
did the right thing. I backed up my data and sometimes removed the hard drives
for privacy before disposing of the computer. Now, I’ve got a stack of data on
outdated media that I can’t read anymore including some very old hard disk
drives all containing my life history – for anyone sufficiently bored to want
It takes up too much cupboard space and I want to get rid of it safely. I
guess I ought not try to burn it all and I don’t own a steamroller necessary
to destroy the media beyond recovery. If the media was properly electronically
wiped, it would probably be useful to someone and I would happily give it all
away to a deserving cause – but I would also be glad to be rid of it in any way
that is relatively straightforward, secure, and environmentally safe.
Have you any ideas for thoroughly deleting the data from all this old media?
And even if the media is still all in one piece at the end of the process, do
you know of any good causes that can use old storage media?
In this excerpt from
Answercast #87, I look at ways to connect to old hard drives so they can be
wiped of data and disposed of.
Safely wipe old hard drives
So, there are a couple of approaches that I would take in your situation. I actually have a similar stack of hard drives down in my basement.
Using a USB connector
So, the non-USB end of this cable just looks like this big plastic double-sided connector thingy. What that allows you to do is to basically turn any external drive, any hard drive that you happen to have, into a USB external drive. You simply connect it up to the right connector on that cable, potentially provide power (which most of the cable packages also provide) and then access the drive as a USB external drive on any computer you have available.
Then if you haven’t already extracted your data from the drives (which you probably have, sounds like you have anyway), then you can run something like DBan on it – but it’s not really necessary. What you can run instead is CCleaner which has a wipe disk option.
Wipe the drive
You can actually tell CCleaner to go ahead and delete everything on this external drive and it will simply do so.
It will take a little bit of time. If you like, I believe it actually has the option to overwrite more than once. In my opinion, once is plenty – especially on an older drive.
That then should leave you fairly confident that if there was anything that could have been recovered on that drive… it’s not gonna get recovered anymore.
Dispose of the drives
As to what to do physically with the drive, I honestly don’t have an answer for you because that’s one of those things that varies dramatically from location to location – and that’s what I would do.
I would look locally. I would actually check with some of the local computer stores and see if they have any recommendation for PC recycling facilities and so forth that can accept your donation of these hard drives.
If they’re very old, they’re probably not good for anything anymore. That’s kind of unfortunate, but at least that way, you can get it into the hands of somebody who will properly, in an environmentally friendly way, dispose of the electronics associated with the device.
On somewhat newer drives, like maybe within the past five or ten years, the drives may still be valuable to someone. Hopefully, there will be a way for your recycling efforts to make those drives available to those who need them.
But that again is something that I would have you look at locally – rather than try to come up with a generic solution that would work country-wide or even planet-wide.
(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)
Next from Answercast 87 – How do I get Windows Live Mail to increase my storage allocation?