Recycle, or find a salvager

The Green Business Network, a nonprofit group based in Washington that provides environmental information to companies, encourages firms to dispose of unwanted computers in one of three ways: store them, recycle them or donate them.

Alex Fevenko couldn't agree anymore.

Fevenko is the co-owner of Equipment Exchange Resources Inc., a computer salvager based in Jessup. He claims old equipment, upgrades it and resells it either from his store or at computer shows.

Utilizing recyclers has numerous benefits, Fevenko said, including taking a firm's mind off the problem.

"If you're an insurance company," he said, "You're worried about insurance. You're not worried about getting all your money back on your Cisco routers."

The salvager also accepts full responsibility for the machines, and they are able to break down the computers they cannot sell into its basic components.

"It's all in writing," Fevenko said. "We sign a contract with you, so once we pick up and leave your site, we're responsible. If monitors are found in the river, and they have your tag, we're responsible."

In addition: "We take a lot of the stuff to what I call the raw disposers. Baltimore Metal will take the metal; another company will take the plastic," he said. "The wire goes to a wire place, where they strip off the plastic and recycle it -- and then they take the copper."

Sensitive data, security issues

But one issue companies face in disposing of their old computer equipment is security. Hard drives need to be wiped clean to protect sensitive information.

One Baltimore recycler, Computer Donation Management Inc., guarantees the "certified destruction of all proprietary data."

"Some customers ... require that we provide a service to where we guarantee the destruction of any data," said Mike Fannon, the company's co-founder. "Some of them want physical destruction, in which we deform the hard drive itself.

"We make it so it's not readable unless you send it off to a computer forensic scientist," he said.

Fannon added that he still could resell these computers, he said, because of a ready market for units missing hard drives, if not other machine parts.

For companies that don't require such drastic security procedures, Fannon uses other methods.

"Another thing we do is, if they don't need or require physical destruction, there is software that will basically overwrite the data that is on the hard drive," Fannon said. "Depending on the number of times you request to overwrite it, it will sort of guarantee that it will take somebody short of the [National Security Agency] to recover that data."

Wiping clean a hard drive the standard three times usually takes about 100 minutes, Fannon said.

Other disposal options

Sending equipment back to its original manufacturer is another way to recycle old computers. Most major computer manufacturers, such as Dell Inc. and Hewlett Packard Co., will reclaim their equipment for a small fee. They even will accept products from other manufacturers.