How to Securely Wipe Data from LTO Tapes?

Despite the newer technologies and storage mediums, magnetic storage tapes, including LTO tapes, remain one of the most popular storage mediums across different industries.

Magnetic tapes are currently the most cost-effective storage medium, with the lowest price per TB. This is why, although LTO tapes offer slower, sequential-style read/write functionality than HDDs or SSDs, they remain a popular medium for enterprises, especially for long-term data archiving. 

Another key advantage of LTO tapes over other mediums is their longevity, with the lifecycle typically quoted at 30 years. However, despite this long lifecycle, at some point, you’ll need to retire these tape cartridges and probably replace them with newer ones.

So, what can you do about the data stored on these LTO tapes once you’ve decided to retire them? Is it safe just to perform a regular wipe?

In this guide, we will discuss all you need to know about performing secure data erasure and physical destruction of your LTO tape cartridges, and by the end of this guide, you’ll learn about:

  • Your options with retired LTO tapes
  • The legality of LTO tape disposal
  • Secure data erasure and physical destruction methods of LTO tape cartridges
  • Tips to securely dispose of or sell your unused LTO tape cartridges

And more.

Without further ado, let’s start by discussing your options with your unused/retired LTO tapes.

Selling vs. repurposing vs. recycling your LTO tapes

You have an unused LTO tape cartridge—or cartridges in a tape library—lying around collecting dust. What are your options with them?

First things first, we have to assess the condition of the LTO tapes. Each LTO tape is unique, and we’ll need to consider several key factors:

  • The age and condition of the tape cartridge, whether the tape can still function properly at an optimal speed
  • What's the resale value of the LTO tape? Obviously, the newer and the better the condition, the more expensive it will be
  • If you are planning to get a replacement cartridge and/or tape drive (upgrade), what's the price of the replacement cartridges? Is the gap between the new and old tape’s resale value too big?
  • Whether the LTO tape cartridge contains sensitive, confidential, or regulated data

By considering these factors, we basically can choose between three options: 

  1. Recycling/disposal: in this approach, your LTO tape cartridge is physically destroyed and disposed of and/or recycled. Disposal is the approach to take if the resale value of the storage tape is already too low or if the tape contains sensitive/regulated data and you simply don’t want to take the risk.
  2. Repurposing: this is the option to take if your tape cartridge is still in pretty good condition, but the resale value is too low. You can use the old IBM hard drive on other devices or repurpose it as an external drive.
  3. Selling: If the resale value of the LTO tape cartridge is still reasonably good and you are confident about secure data wiping (or if you sell to a reputable IT asset disposition company), then this should be the main option to consider to maximize your tape’s ROI. If you plan to replace the tape cartridge, then selling your used data tape media can also help finance the upgrade.

Is it legal to physically dispose of LTO tape cartridges?

When discussing the legality of disposing of LTO tapes—or any digital storage media for that matter—we have to consider two different regulations: environmental and data security laws.

Environmental regulations

Under the current laws as regulated by the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) regulation 40CFR2v3 and RIOS61, it is perfectly legal to dispose of LTO tape cartridges without any special means. 

Under this regulation, LTO tape cartridges are considered as non-hazardous waste, so technically, you can simply throw the tape in the trash bin, and you’re basically done. 

However, your local and state regulations may be more restrictive than this EPA 40CFR2v3 and RIOS61 regulation, so we’d recommend reviewing them before you dispose of the LTO tape. This also applies if you are a non-U.S. business and/or operating in different regions. Make sure to review your country or regional regulations, and make sure to check with the tape’s datasheet (i.e., on the vendor’s official website) for information about the materials contained in the cartridge.

Yet, while you are legally allowed to dispose of LTO tape cartridges according to environmental regulations, it may not be the case according to the applicable data protection laws.

Data protection regulations

In today’s digital and social media age, various data protection rules, laws, and regulations are implemented in various countries and/or regions to control the collection, use, transfer, and—related to this case of tape disposal—storage of sensitive and personal information. 

The pioneer of such laws was the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation,) which applies to countries and organizations within the EU (European Union.) However, now many countries outside the EU have also created and implemented their own data protection laws.

The US doesn’t have a singular law that covers data privacy, but there is a mix of industry-specific laws and state-level laws. Meaning, organizations in the US are pretty much free to dispose of their LTO tapes and do what they want with customers’ sensitive data, unless the industry or state they belong to has its own data privacy law.

At the moment, only three states in the US have their consumer data privacy laws: 

  • California with CCPA (California Customer Privacy Act) and its amendment, CPRA (California Privacy Rights Act)
  • Virginia with VCDPA (Virginia Customer Data Protection Act)
  • Colorado with ColoPA or CPA (Colorado Privacy Act)

Different regulations designed for different industries and/or specific types of data are also in effect in the U.S., including:

  • HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). If you are in the healthcare industry, any data that covers communication between patients and covered entities (hospitals, pharmacies, insurers, doctors, etc.) is protected by HIPAA.
  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) covers student education records.
  • The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) covers consumers’ information in their credit reports.
  • Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) limits a company’s ability to perform data collection on children under 13 years old.

If you are in a country or state with specific data protection laws or in an industry that requires you to protect sensitive consumers’ data, most likely, you’ll be required to perform secure data eradication or perform secure physical destruction that complies with these regulations before you can dispose of your LTO tape cartridges or even before selling your LTO tapes to other parties.

Secure data erasure of LTO Tapes

As discussed, if you are in a regulated state, country, or industry, you will be legally required to securely erase sensitive data from your LTO tape cartridges before you can dispose of, recycle, or sell them, whether via secure data erasure (while keeping the tape cartridge intact) or complete physical destruction. The idea is to ensure sensitive data can’t be recovered and used by malicious parties. 

However, even when secure data erasure isn’t legally required in your location and/or industry, leaving your data intact as you dispose of/sell your storage tape may expose your business and your customers to enormous risks. The sensitive data stored in your data tapes can provide cybercriminals and malicious actors with a valuable vector for them to attack your business and cause potentially lasting damage. 

With that being said, we’d recommend always performing secure wiping to your LTO tapes before parting ways with them in any way.

So, how can we securely erase data stored in the LTO tapes and prevent it from being recovered? 

There are various data erasure methods you can use, but here are some of the most popular ones: 

  • Overwriting with random data: a viable and secure practice is to pump random data to the LTO tape cartridge. This random data may throw off malicious parties, and recovering the original data can be difficult/time-consuming. However, this rewriting process can take a very long time, considering the size of the tape and its sequential read/write nature.
  • Formatting: most stand-alone tapes and tape-library devices offer the option to format your LTO tape cartridge (i.e., volume label, tape density methods.) Formatting is much more efficient than overwriting the tape, but at the same time isn’t as secure. The data previously stored on the formatted device may be recoverable by sophisticated attackers.
  • Degaussing: degaussing is the method of passing the LTO tape cartridge through a powerful but controlled magnetic field (via a degausser tool.) The magnetic field will rearrange the polarity of particles within the tape, completely removing the resemblance to the previously recorded data. An important note when degaussing LTO tapes is that the process will render the tape unusable since it will also scramble important control components stored on the tape (servo track, control track, etc.)
  • Shredding: if you plan to just securely dispose of the tape, then shredding is a viable physical destruction method to consider. However, shredding isn’t completely secure, and it’s possible for persistent malicious parties to reconstruct the shredded pieces. Also, the small pieces of tape will soon pile up as e-waste.
  • Incineration: that is, burning the tape. Technically more efficient and more secure than shredding, but incineration can release toxic elements into the environment and may not be permitted. Also, on a scale, burning a lot of tapes can be very expensive.
  • Landfill:  disposing of your LTO tapes in a landfill may not be permitted by environmental regulations in your area. Even if it’s allowed, discarding the LTO tape in a landfill without destroying it first (i.e., via shredding) isn’t very secure, as someone else can simply take them out with the right equipment.                                                  

Professional on-site or off-site tape destruction with Big Data Supply Inc. 

As you can see, although there are various methods you can try by yourself to securely wipe or physically destroy your LTO tapes, none of them are 100% guaranteed, and this is where having the help of a professional data destruction company can be very valuable.

Big Data Supply Inc. provides professional data destruction for every storage media format—including LTO tapes, as well as professional tape shredding that complies with every major regulation. With decades of expertise, Big Data Supply Inc. is ready to keep your disposal project within your timeframe, budget, and security standards.

Big Data Supply Inc. will ensure the sensitive/personal data stored within your LTO tapes are securely eradicated and unrecoverable. To ensure compliance, Big Data Supply In.c as a certified ITAD company, can also issue a legally-recognized Certificate of Data Destruction for each secured data tape.

Depending on your industry or location, the Certificate of Data Destruction may be considered a legal requirement. 

Contact Big Data Supply Inc. to discuss your project right away.

Selling your old LTO tape cartridges

As discussed, if your tape cartridge is still in fairly good condition and/or still has a good resale value, then the most viable option is to sell them to maximize its value. This is, of course, after considering the secure data erasure methods we’ve covered above.

In selling your old LTO tapes, technically, you have three main options:

  1. Finding your own buyer. Including listing the goods on peer-to-peer marketplaces like Craigslist or eBay. With this option you have the most freedom and versatility in setting your own price and terms, but not only finding the buyer can be challenging (with the fact that magnetic storage tapes are mainly only sought after by enterprises,) but you’ll also need to do everything by yourself from ensuring the secure data wiping, packaging, to shipping.
  2. Listing on marketplaces. The second option is to list your LTO tape cartridges on Amazon, Facebook Marketplace, etc. It’s typically easier to find buyers on these platforms than trying to find your own buyers, but you’ll also have less freedom and versatility as you’ll be limited by the platform’s/marketplace’s rules. You still need to do everything by yourself and ensure the security of both the physical goods and your data.
  3. Selling to specialist ITAD companies. Selling to IT Asset Disposition (ITAD) companies like Big Data Supply Inc. is the easiest, quickest, and most secure option. The ITAD company will do secure data erasure for you (and provide you with a Certificate of Data Destruction) and can even pick up the goods from your location. While you may get less freedom in setting your terms and price, if you are dealing with the right ITAD company, you can still get a fair market value for your goods. 

Also, if you are a data center, then selling your LTO tapes may be a core aspect of your data center decommissioning process.

Timing is key: maximizing your LTO Tape’s resale value

When should you sell your LTO tape to maximize its resale value?

It’s pretty obvious that the older the LTO tape is, the lower its value will be. Also, whenever a new model and/or major update is released, the old tape cartridge model will typically go down in value. 

For example, when LTO-7 was just released, LTO-6 tapes went down in value quite significantly. So, if you expect a major release, it’s typically a good time to sell before the value goes down further. 

However, if you are planning to get a replacement tape cartridge (or upgrade your tape drive cartridges), selling your old tapes and/or drives too soon may not be a good idea because the price of the replacement tape and drive might still be too high.

In such scenarios, you’d want to find the right time when the old tape’s resale value is still high enough while the replacement’s price has gone down a bit. This is to ensure the upgrade is cost-effective.

Checking the condition of your used LTO tapes

Since magnetic tapes—including LTO tapes—are extremely sensitive to storage conditions, it’s necessary to inspect your LTO tape’s condition on a regular basis. Of course, inspection is especially important when you are looking to sell the tape to appraise its potential resale value. 

While this assessment will not identify all potential issues that can occur in an LTO tape cartridge, these inspection criteria will provide you with a good start.

Note: if your tape fails any of these criteria below, do not play back the tape before fixing the issue, or else you’ll put both the tape cartridge and the drive at risk.

  • Step 1: external container assessment

Check the tape’s physical (external) containment whether there’s any damage that may compromise the tape. If the external container, cassette, or reel has any damage that affects its structural integrity, most likely, the tape inside is also contaminated and/or physically damaged.

  • Step 2: internal container assessment

If the tape passes the external container assessment, the next step is to inspect the edges of the tape and the interior of the container. Look for any symptoms of fungal contamination, like any thread-like growth and any presence of black/brown/mustard colorization. If fungus is suspected, inspection should be stopped. The tape should be isolated and treated by professionals immediately.

  • Step 3: tape odor inspection

Remove the tape from its container, and smell the tape immediately. Tapes with binder hydrolysis (essentially, destroying itself) may give off a distinctive, pungent odor that wears off almost immediately. Tapes with binder hydrolysis can stick in the drive during playback, so avoid playing back the tape before treatment. 

  • Step 4: check for liquid contamination

Tape can be contaminated due to poor storage, so check the tape’s edge and the cartridge for any signs of liquid contamination. 

  • Step 5: check for potential signs of breakdown

Check the tape’s edge for any white powder-like or crystal-like residue. This may indicate the tape is starting to break down. Also, check the insides of the container/reel/cassette for the presence of oxide flakes.

  • Step 6: Inspect the tape pack

Check the tape pack for any irregularities:

  • Spoking: a pattern radiating out from the hub, caused by improper handling/tension.
  • Popped strands: also called “stepped” pack, refers to tape wraps that stick up from the edge of the pack.
  • Shiners: irregular reflection (greater than usual) when you shine a light on the tape. Typically caused by torn or folded tape edges.
  • Windows: irregular gaps in the tape pack, caused by the tape becoming loose on its hub.

To assess your tape pack’s condition, shine the pack from above and slightly behind with a light source (i.e., a flashlight), then tilt the tape edge at around a 45-degree angle from the light source. Inspect the pack thoroughly. 

Selling your LTO tapes to a specialist ITAD company

An IT disposition company specializes in buying, and selling used IT assets, used laptops, desktops and tablets, so they'll handle all the work while ensuring both themselves and your company stay compliant with relevant regulations.

A key advantage in selling through ITAD companies is that they can handle data deletion. Look for R2v3 & RIOS recycling companies like Big Data Supply Inc. that not only ensure secure data deletion but will ensure all processes taken to your LTO tapes, old hard drives from SanDisk, Hitachi or Seagate, and other IT assets are environmentally friendly. 

R2v3 & RIOS 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. can also provide Certificates of Data Destruction after your LTO tape cartridge has been securely wiped. In the event that you are needed to prove your company's responsibility to consumer data, these certificates are legally recognized.

Keep in mind that when selling to ITAD companies, you don't set your own prices. Typically these companies will send an offer for your drives, and you can either choose to accept or refuse that price.


Securely wiping sensitive/personal data stored on your LTO tapes can be challenging and time-consuming, especially if you don’t know where to look.

The best, most viable approach is to sell your used LTO tapes and other types of equipment like used CPU and old GPU, to an ITAD company like Big Data Supply Inc., which will handle everything from securing your data to packaging and transporting your old LTO tapes.

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