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How to Handle Hardware Asset Disposal Safely

Tech Tips

Imagine this scenario: You’ve just bought new IT equipment to ensure your team has the latest tech tools. But now you’re left with a conundrum: what to do with the old devices? As an IT manager, the responsibility for conducting proper hardware asset disposal falls squarely on your shoulders.

It’s tempting to just get rid of the old devices and never think about them again. It’s understandable. Why waste resources and manpower disposing of hardware you no longer need? Unfortunately, doing so without a proper plan could put your organization at considerable risk. Old and broken devices could still hold sensitive information that malicious actors could exploit. Thankfully, there is a way to do it safely and efficiently.

Intelligent Technical Solutions (ITS) is a managed service provider (MSP) with years of experience helping businesses with safe hardware asset disposal. In this article, we’ll dive into: 

Destroyed laptop with a hammer highlighting the physical destruction method in hardware disposal

Why Do You Need a Proper Hardware Asset Disposal Process? 

A proper hardware asset disposal process is necessary for several reasons: 

1. Data Security

Proper hardware asset disposal ensures that any data stored on old devices is securely erased and destroyed, preventing costly data breaches. Without it, malicious actors can dig up customer data, financial records, or other personally identifiable information (PII) from your old devices, damaging your reputation or even causing legal problems. 

In July 2020, Morgan Stanley was slapped with a class-action lawsuit by hundreds of the bank's customers. The lawsuit alleged that the bank failed to safeguard its customer's PII owing to improper wiping of decommissioned data center equipment. The information in the assets included customer names, account numbers, and social security numbers of 15 million customers. In the end, Morgan Stanley agreed to pay $60 million to settle the data breach suit.

2. Compliance with Regulations

Many industries have regulations governing the disposal of electronic waste (e-waste). One major example is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Under the regulation, all electronic devices containing protected health information (PHI) must be disposed of so they cannot be read or reconstructed. That usually involves clearing, purging, or destroying the media. Failing to do that can result in fines, penalties, and legal consequences.

In September 2021, HealthReach Community Health Centers notified over 100,000 Maine residents of a massive potential data breach at the community healthcare organization. The practice learned that some of their hard drives were not disposed of properly. The hard drives contained patient names, insurance details, lab test results, and other protected health information (PHI). The incident was investigated for a possible HIPAA violation. 

3. Environmental Protection

If your IT equipment is not fit for resale or donation, you’ll need to find a way to dispose of it responsibly. Electronics are not suitable for disposal alongside general waste. They contain hazardous materials like mercury, cadmium, and lead, which can harm the local environment and community.  

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A good way to address that issue is to look for a recycling partner certified to dispose of computer hardware properly. That will help prevent pollution, conserve natural resources, and reduce the environmental impact of e-waste. Not to mention, they offer cost savings for your organization. Reselling hardware components can generate revenue that can help offset the disposal cost.

4. Corporate Responsibility

Proper hardware asset disposal demonstrates your commitment to responsible environmental stewardship and ethical business practices. That enhances your organization's reputation and brand value, fostering customer and stakeholder trust. 

How to Handle Hardware Asset Disposal Safely 

Handling hardware asset disposal securely and responsibly is crucial for your business. It helps you protect sensitive data and adhere to regulations. Here's a comprehensive guide on how to handle it: 

Technician examining computer motherboard during a hardware disposal process

Step 1: Review Assets 

Before proceeding with disposal, check whether any assets can be repurposed. Servers and workstations can generally be repurposed with minimal upgrades. However, it’s important to note that repurposed hardware is best used for auxiliary roles, like providing extra storage. You should also consider whether repurposing the asset is worth the repair and maintenance cost. 

Step 2: Ensure Data Sanitization 

Ensure all data on the hardware is completely wiped before disposal. That involves using specialized software to overwrite the entire storage space with random data multiple times, effectively rendering the original data unrecoverable. Alternatively, physically destroying the hard drives or storage media can also be an option. 

Step 3: Maintain Inventory and Documentation 

Maintain a detailed inventory of all hardware assets being disposed of. Your documents should include serial numbers, specifications, and associated licenses or warranties. Document the disposal process thoroughly to demonstrate compliance with regulations and internal policies. 

Step 4: Adhere to Environmental Regulations 

Dispose of hardware according to local, national, and international environmental regulations. This may involve recycling components, such as metals and plastics, through certified e-waste recycling facilities. 

Step 5: Consider Asset Remarketing or Donation 

Consider whether any IT assets can be refurbished and resold. You can also donate them to charitable organizations or educational institutions. This not only extends the life of the hardware but also benefits the community and reduces waste. 

Step 6: Ensure Secure Transportation 

Ensure secure transportation of IT assets from your office to the disposal or recycling facility. Choose reputable transportation services or work with certified vendors that guarantee the safe handling of sensitive equipment. 

Step 7: Obtain a Certificate of Destruction 

If you’re outsourcing the process, obtain a certificate of destruction or disposal from the vendor or recycling facility. That confirms that any data-bearing components have been securely sanitized or destroyed. 

Two technicians collaboratively working on the disposal of outdated computer hardware

Ready to Dispose of Hardware Assets Safely? 

Proper hardware asset disposal might seem like a waste of resources. However, it’s integral to your organization’s IT asset lifecycle management. It goes beyond just dumping them in landfills or selling them online. It requires a systematic approach that prioritizes data security and compliance with relevant regulations. Otherwise, you could suffer consequences like fines, penalties, or even legal liabilities. 

If you need help disposing of IT assets safely, we can guide you. Our team at ITS has guided hundreds of businesses with proper IT asset disposal for over a decade. Schedule a meeting with one of our experts to find out how we can help. 

Check out the following resources for more information: 

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