How to Recycle Old Computer Hard Drives

With the rapidly increasing volume of data we handle these days, the need for hard drives (and SSDs) as storage mediums are also increasing each day.

Not only you'll need more hard drives to store more data, but over time, you may need to upgrade your existing hard drives with larger ones, or some of them may go bad, so you'll need to replace them.

The thing is, what can you do about these older, unused drives you've "retired?"

Recycling your old drives is definitely an option. But how can you ensure the safety of your data previously stored within the hard drive? 

Is there any way to make some money from your older drives without compromising data security? Is selling/recycling your old drives as a company even legal?

In this guide, we will discuss all you need to know about how to safely recycle your old computer hard drives, as well as some other options you can try to get the most value out of your hard drives.

By the end of this guide, you'd have learned about:

  • When should you replace your old drives?
  • What to do with your old unused drives: recycling, repurposing, or selling
  • Is it safe to recycle or sell your old drives?
  • When to sell your used hard drives to maximize their value?
  • Actionable tips on how to safely recycle or sell your drives
  • Tips for ensuring you'll get the best value from selling your old drives 

Also, in this guide, we will cover traditional HDDs (with motorized disk platters) and solid-state drives (SSDs.)

Let us begin right away. 

When Should You Replace Old Hard Drives?

For HDDs

The average lifespan of HDDs with motorized disks is around three to five years. However, the actual lifespan may vary depending on many different factors such as brand, type, the environment in which the drive is used, size, and others.

Above all, the frequency and volume of data you read/write on the HDD will be the most important factor. The more often you use the drive, naturally, the sooner it will fail. Hygiene of the environment can also play an important factor, as dust build ups can cause electrical issues.

You may decide to replace the HDD at any time, for example, when you'd like to upgrade it with a larger drive. However, ideally you'd want to replace HDDs before they show signs of failure to avoid system downtime and loss of data due to corruption or other issues.

Some important symptoms of HDD malfunctions are:

  • Grinding or clicking sounds when the drive is in use
  • Your system is frequently overheating and freezing (showing the blue screen of death on Windows or the equivalent on other OSs)
  • System warning about bad sectors or corrupted data on the drive
  • Disappearing files
  • Frequent system/application crashes may be signs of hard drive corruption.

Also, if your system lags or freezes frequently, this can be a sign of the drive being out of disk space, and you may need to replace the drive with a larger one or add another drive while freeing up space.

For SSDs

Solid-State Drives, as the name suggests, utilize solid-state, non-motorized components to read and write data. The lack of mechanical movements will translate into fewer chances of failure, allowing the SSDs to be much more stable and faster than traditional motorized HDDs while consuming less power. k

With that being said, SSDs have a higher average life span of 7-10 years.

However, this is not saying SSDs are 100% perfect. While the solid-state storage component of SSDs isn't susceptible to mechanical failure, other components are vulnerable to failure.

SSDs still require power supplies and capacitors to operate, and they are susceptible to failure, for example, when there are power surges. Also, SSDs corrupting stored data even when the drive itself hasn't failed is a known issue.

Similar to HDDs, however, the more data you read/write to the SSDs, the faster it will fail. SSDs, as a type of flash memory, have limited read/write cycles.

Even with all these potential issues, SSDs should last more than five years on average, but you'll still want to know when your SSD is nearing failure so you can ensure your data's safety.

Unlike motorized HDDs, however, SSDs won't make any sound or physical signs to indicate that it is failing. So, you may need to use software solutions like  CrystalDiskInfo (Windows); macOS users can take a look at Smart Reporter Lite (macOS) or Hard Disk Sentinel  (Linux, Windows) to check the condition of your SSD.

When should you sell your hard drive?

To maximize the value of your old computer hard drives, timing is key.

It's quite obvious that the longer you wait to sell the hard drive, the lower the hard drive's resale value will be. Also, the condition of the hard drive, both in terms of physical defects (if any) and performance, would matter a lot. 

However, selling your hard drive too soon is not always a good idea. If you are planning to replace the hard drive with a new one (i.e., with new technology), then the price of the replacement drive may still be too high, so you may lower the potential ROI of your investments. 

So, when should you sell the hard drive? In general, you'd have to find the sweet spot between when the old hard drive's resale value is still relatively high while the price for the replacement drive has been lowered.

In general, selling when your hard drive is 2-3 years old is a good sweet spot.

What Should You Do With Old Hard Drives: Recycle, Sell, or Repurpose

Before you decide to recycle old computer hard drives, keep in mind that it's not the only option you have. If your drive still has some value, then it's best to sell the hard drive, which may also help you in financing the hard drive replacement. 

Each HDD or SSD is unique, so to consider your options, you have to consider several different factors:

  • The age and condition of the hard drive. Can the drive still function properly? Are there any signs of failures or malfunctions?
  • If you are planning to replace the drive, what's the price of the new HDD or SSD? 
  • Whether the drive contains sensitive or regulated data.

While considering these factors, here are the available options: 

  • Selling: if the resale value of the old computer drive is still fairly high and the drive doesn't contain sensitive/regulated data (or you are confident about secure data wiping, for example, by selling your hard drive to a reputable IT asset disposition company,) then you should definitely sell the drive and make some money out of it. 
  • Repurposing: if your old hard drive is still in a pretty good condition, but you are not willing to sell it for one reason or another (i.e., the resale price is not worth the hassle), then you can repurpose the hard drive, for example by using the drive on another computer or reuse it as an external hard drive. 
  • Recycle: if selling is not an option and you can't repurpose the hard drive, then the last resort option is to recycle the drive. If the hard drive contains sensitive/regulated data and you are not confident about securing it, then recycling the drive to ensure total destruction is the most secure option.

Methods of Recycling Old Computer Hard Drives

If, after considering all the factors above, you still decide to recycle your hard drive, you have several different methods to consider:

DIY methods

While you probably don't have the tools and means to recycle the old drives yourself, you can either securely wipe your data on the drive before throwing it away or physically destroy the hard drive yourself (with the hope that the remains will be recycled.)

The goal here is to ensure it's impossible for anyone to access sensitive information stored within the hard drive after you've disposed of it, and you can follow the instructions below.

Securely Wiping Your Hard Drive

Before you discard your HDD or SSD for recycling, you should make sure you've removed any personal and sensitive data from the drive. 

There are many different methods and software tools you can use to perform a secure wipe, but here are the methods we'd recommend:

  • For HDDs

If you have a Windows computer, then we'd recommend using the free DBAN utility tool to easily and securely wipe your HDD. DBAN is pretty easy to use and is also very reliable in performing secure wiping to ensure the erased data is 100% unrecoverable.

DBAN, however, is not available on macOS devices, so if you only have Mac devices, you can't use DBAN for wiping your HDDs. Instead, you can simply use your Mac's built-in Disk Utility tool, which is also pretty reliable. 

Go to the Utilities folder (Apple+Shift+U), run Disk Utility, and format (not Quick Format) the HDD three times. 

  • For SSDs

Fortunately, most major SSD manufacturers (i.e., Western Digital, Seagate, SanDisk, Samsung, etc.) provide their own disk management solution that can help in securely wiping the SSD.

So, if you haven't already, first identify the SSD's manufacturer, then go to the manufacturer's website to download the disk management software.

However, if you can't find the disk management software for one reason or another, you can try to use Gparted (free).

Physically Destroy the Hard Drive

If you are not confident about securely wiping your drive and there's no chance you'll be using this drive in the future; a very secure option is to completely destroy the hard drive.

There are several methods you can try:

  • Manually destroy disk platters: open the HDD's case until the motorized disk platter is exposed. Then you can grind or sand the disk platter to completely destroy the stored data. 
  • Hammering old hard drives: pretty self-explanatory; the simplest method that will require some effort is to use a hammer to smash and destroy the HDD. However, if you are using this method, make sure to completely smash the drive, so the data is not recoverable.
  • Drilling/driving nails: you can drill or hammer nails directly into multiple areas of the disk platter. If you drive enough nails, they should be enough to ensure the data stored is 100% inaccessible.
  • Incineration: burning your HDD or SSD is obviously easy and is a very reliable method if you'd want to completely destroy a hard drive. However, keep in mind that it's not the most environmentally-friendly option, and incinerating your drive will release chemical substances into the air. Check first whether this practice is prohibited in your area before you proceed.
  • Degaussing: degaussing is the practice of driving the hard drive through a very strong magnetic field, completely rendering the disk unusable.

Recycling Your Personal Computers

If you are only looking to recycle your own personal hard drive along with your computer, then you can:

  1. For Windows PCs: you can contact a Windows-certified refurbisher that provides secure data wiping service for a small fee. You can try to find the nearest Microsoft Authorized Refurbishers (MARs) from this list. These refurbishers may offer to buy your old drive after performing secure data wiping and provide you with a Certificate of Data Destruction, or some may also send the drive back to you after it's securely wiped. 
  2. For Macs: if you have a Mac device, then you can simply send the device (or the hard drive) to the nearest Apple recycling center. The Apple recycling center will perform secure wiping on your hard drive.

Sending Your Old Computer Hard Drives to Their Manufacturers

Depending on the HDD's or SSD's manufacturer, you may be able to send the old hard drive directly to its manufacturer for recycling. Some of them may also accept your whole computer (especially if it's a laptop or OEM PC from their brand.)

So, contact your hard drive's (or computer's) manufacturer and ask whether they'd accept your hardware for recycling. If you'd like to reuse the drive and only want to securely wipe the data, some manufacturers are offering this service for a small fee. 

If you need to send the hard drive, then ask whether the manufacturer offers free shipping. If that's the case, request a pre-paid shipping label from them so you can print out the label yourself.

Once you've arranged the recycling with the manufacturer, package the hard drive and bring it to your trustworthy mail carrier. Keep in mind that if the manufacturer's office is pretty close by, you can simply deliver the hard drive/device to the office on your own.

When sending your hard drive:

  • Make sure the drive is properly packaged (i.e., with adequate bubble wrap) to protect the drive during transportation.
  • If you've received a shipping label from your drive's manufacturer, simply attach the label to your box. Make sure to visit the mail carrier that matched the shipping label.
  • If you didn't receive the shipping label in one way or another, then you'll need to pay for shipping yourself. 

Selling or Recycling to IT Asset Disposition Company

Another viable option to securely recycle your hard drive is to sell your old hard drives, computers, or other IT assets to an IT asset disposition (ITAD) company.

An ITAD company specializes in buying, selling, and recycling used IT equipment, including hard drives. So, by selling your old computer hard drives to them, they'll handle all the work of securely wiping your data and performing responsible recycling to ensure both the IT asset recovery company and your company stay compliant with relevant regulations.

One key advantage in selling your old hard drives to these ITAD companies is environmentally-friendly and secure data wiping. R2 recycling companies like Big Data Supply Inc. will not only ensure secure data wiping but also ensure all processes taken to recycling or refurbishing your hard drive are responsible and environmentally friendly. 

As a compliant ITAD company, Big Data Supply Inc. would also provide Certificates of Data Destruction after your hard drive has been securely shredded or destroyed. In the event when you are needed to prove your company's responsibility to consumers' sensitive and/or regulated data, these certificates are legally recognized.

To sell your hard drive to an ITAD company, you can follow these steps:

Step 1: listing the details of your old hard drive

It's crucial to gather as much information as you can about your old hard drive so the ITAD company can give an accurate estimation of its worth.

At the very least, identify and list the following details: 

  • Type (HDD, SSD, other)
  • Brand
  • Model
  • Quantity (if you are selling more than one hard drive)
  • Serial number
  • Connector/interface type
  • Capacity/storage size
  • Condition 

If you are only selling one hard drive, then this step shouldn't be a major issue. However, if you are selling multiple drives in bulk, consider creating a dedicated spreadsheet to keep everything in check.

Step 2: take clear and honest photos

In this step, take clear photos of the hard drive, including a clear picture of its serial number. 

The goal here is not to take beautiful, enhanced pictures of your old drives but to provide an accurate representation of the drive's condition. 

So, the photos don't need to be professionally taken, but rather, it's important to be honest. If there are any physical defects, make sure to take pictures of these defects and mention them when offering the hard drive.

Step 3: Finding the right ITAD company

Make sure to find an ITAD company that is both R2 and RIOS certified.

R2 certification is awarded only to companies that have achieved responsible recycling standards that also have followed appropriate data security best practices. 

On the other hand, RIOS certification is an ANSI accredited standard that acknowledges the service provider's compliance with ISO:9001 (service quality), ISO:14001 (eco-friendly), and OHSAS:18001 (health and safety).

Big data Supply Inc. is both R2 and RIOS certified, ensuring your data is securely wiped before the recycling process while also ensuring responsible and environmentally-friendly recycling.

Once you've sent the details of your old hard drive and other IT equipment you'd like to sell, the ITAD company will send an offer for your drives, and you can either choose to accept or refuse that price. 

Step 4: Packaging and shipping

The ITAD company may offer to pick up your old hard drive on your place or even perform secure data wiping on your premises, but you may be required to package and ship the hard drives yourself. 

When that's the case, make sure to package the hard drive securely and carefully so you don't damage the hard drive. The last thing you'd want is to accidentally damage the hard drive before it's sold. 

If necessary, purchase insurance on your package to ensure its safety. Even if the hard drive has been packaged and shipped securely, accidents can happen, and the hard drive may be lost or damaged when transported. Without insurance, you'll need to absorb the cost.

If you are selling multiple drives in bulk, then don't forget to label the items correctly. This will help the ITAD company when unpacking your hard drives so you can get paid faster and accurately.

Wrapping Up

Recycling your old computer hard drives is now pretty easy and safe, and while the main concern is about the security of your data, there are now many ways to ensure you can securely wipe your data and ensure it's 100% unrecoverable.

However, keep in mind that recycling the old hard drive is not your only option. If the drive is still functional and/or still has some resale value, it's probably better to either repurpose it or sell it to ensure you can maximize its value.

Buying and selling used IT equipment, including used hard drives, is Big Data Supply Inc.'s specialty, and we are ready to be your partner in maximizing the value of your used hard drives.

Don't hesitate to leave any comments and questions below, and if you'd like to inquire about a quote on selling your old hard drives, contact us at 1 (866) 411-4890 or fill out the online form here.

cross