The Importance and Theory of Hard Drive Recycling
For years, hard drives have been integral components of personal and business computers. They store vital documents, applications and operating system data, and although they’re beginning to be phased out in favor of other high-volume storage media, such as SSDs, they still play critical roles in computing. The one downside to their prevalence, however, is that when disposed of improperly, hard drives can pose serious threats to the environment, wildlife and human health.
What’s In a Hard Drive?
Hard drives store memory on spinning disks, also known as platters. The bulk majority of a platter is typically composed of a blend of hardened glass, aluminum or some other form of ceramic. These strong surfaces are coated with thin layers of magnetic material divided into tiny sections; by magnetizing and demagnetizing the divisions in an orderly fashion, a hard drive can represent information as 1s and 0s.
In addition to a motor that spins the platter at a high angular velocity, hard drives include arms that hold magnetic sensors and circuitry designed to decipher their output. A large permanent magnet or series of magnets creates a strong motor field that the hard drive uses to reposition the arm in order to read specific sections of the rapidly spinning disks. Check out some cool things you can do with a dead hard drive.
Why Do Hard Drives Require Recycling?
While components like platters include mostly harmless ceramics, and housings are typically made from aluminum and other relatively non-toxic metals, the circuit boards in hard drives often contain dangerous hazards. For instance, metals such as tin, lead and antimony are commonly used in solder, the substance used to make electrical connections.
When circuit boards that incorporate dangerous metals are thrown in dumps or buried in places where they’re exposed to moisture, their hazardous elements can leach out into the soil or even contaminate the water table. Such concerns are especially pertinent with hard drives and other electronics because they’re often buried en masse. Although each device only contains a small quantity of toxic substances, they’re routinely tossed out in the thousands, so it all adds up.
Also remember that although it’s exceedingly common, raw aluminum doesn’t start out that way. Processing plants must employ massive amounts of electrical power to extract it from bauxite and the other minerals it’s naturally acquired from in mines. Recycling your old hard drives reclaims significant amounts of aluminum that can be remelted without as much processing; this conserves energy and minimizes landfill volume.
Other important metals in hard drives include the actuator coils used in the motors and the arm. While these components make up a relatively small percentage of a drive’s weight, the copper they contain can have some toxic effects on certain wildlife. Similar to aluminum, recycling minimizes the amount of energy required to produce copper for new uses.
How Can People Recycle Their Drives Responsibly?
Some states, like California, outright prohibit the once-common practice of tossing hard drives in the trash. Of course, it’s not enough to simply rely on the services of a generic recycling firm; only those who have demonstrated their expertise and worth by earning a state stamp of approval should be trusted.
Recycle San Diego has over 18 free e-waste drop-off locations where you can take the hard drives too. In addition, if you require the hard drives to be shred they offer hard drive shredding services for a nominal fee.
Always recycle with a reputable service that processes the hard drives on its own or contracts with a reliable partner to do so. Recycle San Diego is such a company that provides this service. You can check out the hard drive shredding process.